INTRO: Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
RECAP: So last week, we were talking about how in our personal lives, we tend to not want to allow other people to suffer. In fact, what we want to do is we want to fix it. We want to fix it. We want to stop other people from hurting. And we certainly want to stop ourselves from hurting because nobody wants to be in pain.
TOPIC INTRODUCTION: However, this week, what I want to do is apply this to our stories. And use this very real phenomenon, that we actually experience in real life, how we might be able to utilize it in our stories to better exemplify or help our characters' arc.
PRESENTATION: So we've been talking about our personal lives, but this is then what plays into our stories, because one of the things I've often said is that storytellers are the great diagnosticians, right? Artists are the people that have our pulse on humanity. And the point is that we're the ones telling humanity where we are sick. "Hey, look, here's a problem. Let's fix this." "Oh, hey, look, over here, this is sick."
The problem is though, the minute we try to fix it in our stories, we've ruined it. You see what I'm saying? So really, what we need to do when we are in our stories is not try to fix it. And as Christians, that is a real temptation, right? We see problems. And then we want to offer a solution. We want to try to tell people that this is the way to do it. And this is when we get into preaching. And this is when we get into agenda. And this is when we get into propaganda. Message driven stuff. That's just not good. And it's because we've crossed the boundary from diagnosing what's wrong to actually trying to fix it. Do you see the corollary here? We need to recognize the problem. That's the best way to go about our story. We recognize the problem. We point out the problem. We resist the temptation to try to fix the pain. That's God's job, not ours.
So in the last podcast, I talked about my friend Dave, whose fiancee had died. And how he went to the soccer game. And at that soccer game, that man made a beeline. What I didn't say is that prior to that, when he showed up for the game, and he didn't know how he was going to get through it. And he was just so raw and soul broken. He was surprised because nobody brought up the death of his fiancée. It was still fairly fresh. Everybody knew about it. But nobody brought it up. Nobody came up to him and brought it up. And so he didn't either. And he felt like everybody knew that he was on the verge of tears. But people were sort of avoiding looking at him or, you know, just being friendly. So he was trying to do the same thing he was trying to put on his game face. But he just kept feeling so alone, so broken. And had it not been for that guy who got up and stood next to him shoulder to shoulder and looked out over that field and said, "Don't worry, I'm here. I'm gonna stay here with you for the rest of the game." Dave said he doesn't know how we would have gotten through it.
That guy must have known from personal experience. That guy knew agony. He knew what it was like to suffer the way Dave was suffering. And he didn't try to take it away. He didn't try to comfort him. He didn't offer platitudes. Oh, good night, all those platitudes that people use to try to make you feel better. He didn't do that. He just said, "I'm here, buddy. I'm not going anywhere. You do what you need to do. I'm not going I'm right here with you." I mean, that's all Dave needed. That is all he needed. And the guy did stay there while Dave intermittently put his head down and cried. Just getting through that game was torture. Being there without the love of his life was torture. And he had to endure it. It was just something he had to endure. He had to get through it. And that guy made it possible. Dave said he'll never forget it. He will never forget it and he will always be grateful.
Again, I may offend you by saying that there are a lot of stories out there being touted by Christians as good that aren't. They're bad because of the simplistic solutions that are being offered. They bypass the necessary component of pain, or they tack on messages in an unrealistic manner. They avoid the issue altogether. And try to make things okay because of Jesus. And it just doesn't work. Because we learn through suffering. We learn through the suffering of ourselves, of others, and our characters. Good and bad, right or wrong. That's just the way it is.
So, I recently read a Christmas story about some children who were struggling with an elf on the shelf. Now, the premise of the story is that these children think that the elf is there to spy on them. And then he's going to report back to Santa all the bad things that they've done. And they're going to be in trouble or something. And so they set out to—I don't really know. I don't really know what they were trying to do. Actually, it wasn't very clear in the story—to destroy the elf or high the elf or something. I'm not really sure. But somehow they are afraid of the elf, which is kind of an interesting premise. And they end up causing this Christmas tree to fall down or something. Because the dog gets into it as they're trying to do whatever it is they're doing, and it knocks the tree over. So the dad comes downstairs, and then he launches into a story about oh, you know, it's okay. Really. Jesus will take away all our fears. Jesus is the one that we need to turn to. And that is the progression of the story. And by the way, it had nothing to do with the actual story.
Now, really, the elf on the shelf story is kind of an interesting premise. Like the kids think that the elf on the shelf is going to spy on them. That's actually a good premise. And yet, the dad coming down and teaching this moral lesson about Jesus had nothing to do with that. It was a complete 180. It was a blind side, because it had nothing to do with the story itself. It's like we try to tack on these moral lessons that aren't even the point of the story, which is essentially what we're doing. We say things like, "Well, whenever you're ready, if you're wanting to date, again, I have somebody I'd love to set you up with," or whatever the case may be. That's not the point.
So we don't want to do that in story. We don't want to do it in real life. This is one reason why there is so much more safety or why people feel safer to go to places like AA. In fact, this was a premise of AA, that the only people that can help other alcoholics are alcoholics, because they understand. Because they understand. And by the way, in that environment, there are certain rules of engagement. You cannot cross talk. You cannot respond to another person's share. When you share in a 12 step program, the fundamental principle is you share about your story. And the other people don't try to tell you what to do. That makes you feel very safe because nobody's trying to tell you what to do. Nobody's trying to weigh in on your issue. You just get to share what you're going through. And so everybody shares on their own. And lo and behold, it's wonderful.
And wouldn't that be a great principle that we would use in real life, when somebody else is struggling and suffering, instead of turning around and trying to fix it? We share in kind. If we have a share and kind of story that matches. It shouldn't be something lame. Like my spouse of 30 years died. Oh, I remember when my hamster died. That is not a like story. So that would be insulting and wrong. But if you have a like story, and you feel like you can share what you did in your life that helped you, now you're not telling them what to do. You're not trying to fix them. You're simply sharing your experience, strength, and hope in the event that that will be useful to them. But they're the ones that are given the option to either take it or not. And either way, they will benefit from the hope that they too might heal or that there are things that they may find.
So that would be a good principle to practice. But you resist the temptation to tell them what they should do, how they ought to proceed, what would make them feel better. Don't fix it. You tell your own story. That's it.
So with Dave, I couldn't relate to the story of a fiancée dying, however I could relate to death. And I certainly could relate to suffering in isolation. Because when I was going through a divorce with my now ex-husband, Zach, I felt very abandoned by virtually all our friends. Nobody was reaching out to me, nobody was contacting me. And I was also going through recovery from trauma. And I was a wreck. I mean, I really was, and I was very much alone. So, I could relate to that. I could relate to that. And I talked to him about that, and how painful it was to feel like people must know that you're suffering, but they don't care enough to ask you about it.
Now, one of the things that I genuinely was told by my therapist was something called "share, check, share". It's an honest to goodness tactic that my therapist related to me because apparently, I didn't have, back then, a very good gauge of whom to share with. And so he taught me. "Here's what you do, Zena." If you share a story with somebody, you wait, you check and you wait to see if they share something in kind. If they do, then you can share again, something of equal or deeper value. But if they don't, then you stop. And you let the relationship be on that level.
Share, check, share. It was a tactic I needed to learn because I was over sharing with people who weren't sharing in kind, and then it made me feel worse in my isolation. It made me feel like I had just exposed my soul bleh, here I am. And nobody responded. And so now I'm naked, and everybody else is just like doot-do-do, pretending that I'm not. That's how I felt. It was very uncomfortable. But it was because I didn't know how to do this. I didn't know how to do this. That's part of the product of my upbringing and lack of boundaries in our home and all those things. I didn't know what was appropriate. So I had to learn it. I had to manually learn how to manually relate to people in a different way, in that particular capacity. It's a wonderful tactic, by the way. Share, check, share.
And by the way, part of the reason why that's true for me is because I am not good at superficial. I don't know how to do that very well. I want to get deep. I long for deep emotional intimacy and connection. That's why I do this podcast. I don't like the fluff. I want deep. I want it. I long for it. And so I would try to get that from everybody. But not everybody is capable of it.
So when you're suffering, you want to seek out those people that have a capacity to go deep, because those are the people that will bring healing to you. And if you don't have those people in your life, you need to start cultivating those relationships now. Because there will inevitably come a time when you will need them. And you will need those people who know how to sit with you in the pain. And you will need those people who know how to share, check, share. And you will need those people who know how to share their experience, strength and hope without trying to fix you or tell you what you should do. Those are the people that will give you life. Those are the people that will heal your wounded heart.
And this brings us back to story. Because one of the most valuable things you will ever learn in story is to how to have your characters practice this technique within the story. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing. So instead of a character coming alongside another and saying, "Here's what you need to do." Which, by the way, we're tempted to do, especially when we write a mentor type figure, right? The mentor has the permission to be able to speak into the other character's life and to say, "Here's what you need to do." But resist that temptation in the story also. And instead, do what we're talking about here. Where you have the character, even the mentor character, share a story, share a personal story about their own life that the other character can learn from.
CONCLUSION: It is a far better tactic to use, way more powerful in your story. People will love it and we'll be able to draw from it, but the character will be able to draw from it. They'll be able to use the lessons that are in the story itself to find a solution to their own situation. And guess what.that does. That makes the character more likeable. That makes the character seem smarter to us. That makes the character seem more clever. And all of those things. We will like them better because they were able to extricate the knowledge they needed, and find a way to apply it to their own situation, which makes them heroic in our eyes. So, the next time you have the temptation, either in your real life or your story life to solve the problem, think about instead telling a story.
Okay, now there's a lot more that I could say about this particular facet. However, what I want to just say is that, if you can just be there for somebody else, you can be present with them in their pain—go to their house, just sit with them, bring them some food, sit there, watch TV, if they want, or just sit there with them, let them do whatever, let them cry in your presence—you will be doing a huge service for somebody.
And it won't work in all situations. You've got to use your wisdom. You've got to use your common sense. But I will say this, if you have this opportunity, you've got to be present. You can't just go to somebody's house and play video games while they're suffering. Now, if they want to play video games, sure, play video games with them. But you can't be doing that. And don't be on your phone. Don't don't be doing all this that's not sitting with them. You got to put away your own distractions.
And by the way, it also doesn't mean that you have to cater to it or you have to indulge it. It doesn't mean that it's good for the other person to wallow in it. You have to use your common sense to know what's the best thing. But if somebody is genuinely grieving, you can at least be present with them in that.
When I went to my friend Ruth's funeral, I remember being at the house, and we were all telling stories. And once a while I'd just crack a joke. Now, part of that is because I get a little uncomfortable with all the sadness. But also part of it is that there's funny things in life too. You can still crack jokes. In fact, I think humor, as I've said, is the opposite of serious because you're not getting into despair. And Ruth was funny. She had a wonderful sense of humor. And so once in a while, I would make a joke. So it wasn't to cover the pain. That's not why we laughed. The laughter was in the midst of the pain. And there was something powerful and beautiful about that. And it wasn't to try to change the subject. It was in the context of the subject. It was a reflection of what we were collectively going through. So it happened in an appropriate context. And that's what made it meaningful and powerful and healing.
So be present with the people that you care about. Be present. Let them grieve. Let others be with you while you suffer. Ask for what you need, if you need it. But whatever you do, resist the temptation to fix it. And when you do, whether in story or in real life, you will find that's when the true intimacy comes.
CALL TO ACTION: I hope that this has been helpful to you. And if it is, if you would share this episode with somebody that you think needs to hear it and or if you would rate and review the show, either on Apple podcasts or on the podcast app of your choice. And we're also on YouTube. So we'd love to have you rate and review and subscribe on YouTube so that you can actually be watching the show.
OUTRO: All right, I want to thank you so much for joining me on this episode of The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.