She asked me why it is that people she’s never met before feel compelled to share their most intimate and painful experiences with her. I explained that she has an invisible tattoo on her forehead that reads, “Please tell me your most personal problems. I desperately need to know.” The tattoo is only visible to people who are hurting, alone, in dire straits, or overwhelmed. That’s a lot of people.
I went on to explain that her mannerisms and the way she presents herself to the world strongly indicate compassion and receptiveness, which are almost as rare as being a really good listener in the first place. I like the symbolism of the invisible tattoo because I love ink and the best ink always tells or symbolizes a good story.
“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” – Rod Stewart
Everyone has a story to tell. Unfortunately, a lot of folks either don’t have anyone they believe wants to hear it, or they’re too ashamed/embarrassed/uncomfortable to tell it. Sharing your troubles during a random encounter is a minimal risk. Some of the very best conversations I have ever had were with complete strangers in the smoking area of wherever I happened to be. A common desire brings us to the same place and we converse because there’s nothing other than nicotine to hold our attention. Smokers always know a little something about self destructiveness and poor choices for obvious reasons.
Shared stigma provides opportunities to share and connect. No groups personify this better than self help communities (AA, NA, FA, Al-Anon and others). Alcoholics understand and are accepting of other alcoholics and this is a huge part of why AA is so effective. The experience of chairing a meeting, speaking in or outside of a meeting with the purpose of sharing ones “experience, strength, and hope” are forms of storytelling with the goals of creating greater understanding and providing healthy options for action. The AA member’s approach opens doors because they share their story as opposed to insisting that the new comer tell theirs.
Shared interests bring people together. Some of the very best friends I have in life are folks I met online during the early days of the internet. List serves were early group email conversations in the 90’s and you joined them based on common interests. Of course there is only so much that can be said about any particular subject and so each group I joined either wore itself out or folks began sharing about themselves. It was/is easy to share your story online because you can do so with anonymity (another AA value). The real joy of the Web for me is that I get to “meet” people I’d have never come face to face with. The ripple effects caused by these connections have enriched and altered my life immeasurably. This is a modern day spin of the “Web That Has No Weaver”
Random encounters aren’t truly random – they’re just things we didn’t plan. The goal is to not shy away when they occur because the Universe is trying to make something happen. This explains James Redfield’s book, The Celestine Prophecy in a nutshell.
Connections are made possible by a Higher Power and they create opportunities for growth and healing. Redfield suggested that in every seemingly random encounter we silently ask ourselves, “What have I for you? What have you for me?” This give and take is not about anything material. It’s about getting out of our own way in order to give and receive, to teach and to learn.
“I am a part of all that I have met.” – Alfred Tennyson
Therapy and counseling at their best work similarly to what Redfield suggests. To be heard and understood are important human needs and I am honored to learn from every story told to me. People share their experiences, insights, and feelings in therapy through a story telling process. In so doing they achieve greater clarity and receive an objective/alternative viewpoint. For many of us, just being able to tell our stories is liberating because carrying secrets leaves our story incomplete and our selves conflicted. Most of all, therapy at its best helps us become more active in planning the next chapter of our story.
“And oh how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself.” – Dar Williams