Subtract the Story

Shannon Lee was in an on-and-off relationship with the same man for years. He claimed to love her and made grand promises yet never came through. After she finally broke it off, she felt angry and hurt. She blamed him for not appreciating her, and she felt he had wasted her time.

But then, eventually, Shannon began to reflect on the bigger picture. In Be Water, My Friend, the daughter of Bruce Lee explains she had to face a difficult question: “Without making a story out of it, what actually happened?”

Once she managed to distinguish between herself and her feelings — and between both those things and the situation — she realized she had tried too hard: “I had this idea in my head that if I could model the care I wanted (without having to actually ask for it) and by example have him adopt it, then that would thereby prove my worth.”

Shannon had never really found out how much the man actually valued her because she didn’t value herself enough to simply ask for what she needed. As a result, he reflected the same lack of care right back at her. That doesn’t mean the man didn’t have a lot to learn and apologize for, but ultimately, there was a bigger lesson here to learn for Shannon — but she could only see it once she subtracted the story.

We tell ourselves stories all day long, and often, those stories are our greatest allies. But sometimes, especially in complex, interpersonal situations, they simply get in the way.

Here were two people, one who wanted to love the other but perhaps didn’t know how to do it, and one who attempted a show-don’t-tell when straight-up communication might have done the trick. As long as each of them told themselves a story about being misunderstood or mistreated, however, neither could see the situation as it was.

Stories are wonderful companions. Just know when it’s time to ask your ally to step aside. Subtract the story when only logical analysis will do, and soon, you’ll be writing the next chapter.