"Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and
often times we call a man cold when he is only sad."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Rusty, dirty, and dark. That was the way my father perceived the Chicago that I had moved my family to in the mid 90’s.
Apart from his grandchildren being there, why would he possibly want to visit?
What he found, however, was almost the complete opposite. Everything was vivid, clean, and bright. Endless green belts, parks, and overflowing flora and fauna. An immense major metropolis seasoned with incredible diversity, culture, and art. Even the buildings crowding the lakeside were canvases for the world’s greatest architects.
Floating through the downtown on the city’s famous river cruises into the lake provided a sense of perspective, overwhelm, and wonder. Like Dorothy, he had walked out of the black and white canvas of his imaginings into a technicolor Oz.
His perception was far different than the reality of things.
Longfellow identified something similar about people. We may find a person a certain way, but realize something far different upon further inspection. The visible external is a result of an internal reality. Some of us are even good at pretending (or posing) for a while, but eventually our inner life begins to surface.
One of the reasons for this misunderstanding, is that we typically know very little about the people we interact with on a regular basis. I mean, we know things about some people (age, name, marital status, job, etc.), but we really don’t know them at all. If you really want to know someone, you need to know the story of the life they lived from the very first day to the last.
And guess what? That is pretty impossible to do in 144 characters. Your fingers would likely cramp and cease and desist over text before you even learned how to ride a bike in your story. And most of our stories are far too messy to share among the highlight reels mostly offered over social media channels.
But being known is not only an essential need for all us, but the answer to actually understanding everyone in our lives as well. When is the last time you sat across the table, shared some foam or suds, and the stories of your lives. I get to do that hundreds of times a year. It is beautiful and humbling.
I end every first hearing of someone’s story with the same thing…
It was an honor to hear your story.
What could be more precious than the story of someone’s life, the good and the bad, from the first day to the last? It is their everything. It is far richer, nuanced, and glorious than any perception you could possible have of someone from the outside.
Being known is the great need of everyone.
It is the key to really seeing and understanding someone.
It is how we connect our perceptions to our realities.
What matters most is what is going on inside and the way the story we have lived is crafting everything else showing up in the present.
- How many people know the real story of your life?
- How do you think your perceptions of them might change if you knew the reality of their stories?
- How would other’s understanding of you change if they knew the story of your life?
- How many other people’s story do you know?