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What if the true story really is terrible?

25/5/2017

I was chatting with someone who had been on one of the programmes I run, and has subsequently been reading Shifting Stories, on Monday night. He asked: 'But what if the true story really is terrible?' It is all well and good to see if there is a better story available and it is merely our interpretation of it that is problematic, but sometimes life really is terrible. What happened later on Monday night, of course, was dreadful evidence of that, with a suicide bomber killing more than 20 people at a concert in Manchester.

 

Yet even when something as dreadful as that happens, we have choices about the meaning we assign to it, the story we construct: and that has a catalytic impact on what happens next.

 

And that is not a mere theoretical idea. Consider the case of Clarence Adoo. Clarence was a trumpeter at the Northern Sinfonia when my wife worked there (it was her landing that job as FD that brought us up to the North, incidentally). He had performed with such luminaries as Courtney Pine, and had a potentially stellar career ahead of him. In 1995 he was involved in a car accident that left him paralysed from the neck down.

 

That, by any reckoning, is really terrible. Yet Clarence refused to embrace and indulge a story of disaster, tragedy and victimhood. Instead, he constructed a new story about himself, as both an educator and a musician. He now inspires children with his school visits, and was a founding member of the British Paraorchestra, the world's first professional ensemble for disabled musicians. 

 

So the 'real' story was truly terrible. But his preferred story was significantly better - and he made it come true.

 

And Clarence, though a unique individual, is not unique in that respect; I have blogged previously about John Hull, and there are many other examples. 

 

The point is that we always have a choice about the meaning we seek and find in our experiences (cf Viktor Frankl), and that choice has real consequences. It is not easy - John Hull wrestled with God!... - but the choice is real nonetheless, and in that sense, Shakespeare was right when he said 'there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.'

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