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Learning from Others’ Stories

Posted by on November 4, 2011

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but occasionally I get hooked on a TV series… usually one that was popular a few years ago and has shot their last season. People complain that Hollywood is obsessed with skinny young rich people and teaches terrible values, but the shows I’ve watched this year haven’t been like that at all.

Good TV is just good storytelling and I like a good story. Typically when I’m depressed, lost or just generally unsure of my way, is when a TV series is most likely to have a hold on me. I think it’s because I’m looking for answers. How do other people solve problems? What do people do when faced with loss, a terrible choice, or indecision? Since the dawn of time, people have been telling stories to try to find their way. Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Someone else said, “our minds are meaning making machines.” And it’s true. I heard a woman on NPR talking about her husband’s death in Afghanistan, a Marine who was killed in the line of duty. She said, “I’m trying to discover the meaning in his death.” I cried out, while cooking dinner in my kitchen, “There is no meaning!” But it doesn’t matter how right I am. Even if there is no meaning, people will make it up. I have a friend who broke up with his girlfriend. He keeps making up stories about what she’s doing, about why it didn’t work out, about how he loved her more than she loved him. “Stop making up stories!” I tell him. “You just made that up. It’s not real. You don’t have proof that that’s true.”

But, when I think about all the drama I’ve had in my life, it’s because I was giving meaning to situations that probably didn’t have any. So, I don’t feel guilty anymore for falling into a good story. Studying other stories has taught me a few things. And those lessons are helping me survive.

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