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The Stories We Tell (and other white lies)

It’s the season for storytelling and magical thinking. While marketers may take advantage of this, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on the stories we tell and why.

Years ago my husband took my youngest daughter in his lap at the kitchen table. He diplomatically relayed the news that Santa Claus isn’t real. She was nine years old at the time. It was a preemptive play. We felt it would be worse if she got teased by her third grade classmates. Plus, he was the better truth teller. My fear was that I’d never be forgiven (you know, the mother-daughter deal).

Josie’s reaction was as anticipated: Shock. Then came the searing questions: 

You mean you lied to me this whole time? (Well, not quite. Umm, yes.) 

What about the reindeer food we left out in the yard?  (The local paper had a recipe and all the kids were making granola). 

Milk and cookies for Santa? (Well, yes. That, too. Part of the holiday baking tradition.)

The tracks in the snow? (Lots of deer and bunny tracks lent to the magic.)

The tooth fairy, too? (Guilty as charged.)

We got a good laugh in a retelling at Thanksgiving. He thought she’d make a good lawyer someday. She chose otherwise. Dad did go on to tell Josie that Saint Nick was once a real person and his story of generosity and helping the poor lives on from season to season. 

There’s some truth in every white lie, right? 

Good thing the Elf on the Shelf wasn’t around back then,” piped in Sophie, her older sister. She witnessed frantic parents for whom she babysat going into physical contortions to find new hiding places. It does beg some questions on what messages we actually want to reinforce and how. Empathy? Compassion? Generosity? Faith? Love?

The German tales I grew up with had much higher stakes – a judgment of good or bad behavior – along the lines of waking up to either coal or candy in your shoes. Plus, we had real candles on the Tannenbaum and a bucket of water nearby. 

A little google research suggests that the ole coal in your clogs story that spurred various naughty-or-nice themes likely originated in 16th century Holland. Of course, there are plenty of recipes for Christmas coal candy on the internet to keep the spirit alive. But there was an unfortunate twist in the telling. Once upon a time a lump of coal was considered a gift of comfort to wake up to warm shoes.

Stories are powerful, indeed. They get handed down from one generation to the next. They shape our ideas, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. Their origins get morphed and mangled, too, for better or worse! 

What are the stories you share? What messages are explicit or implicit? What magic do you want to spread and how? Do you break the spell or keep it alive?

A Self-Reflection Skill

If you haven’t yet ventured into the stories you tell yourself – the inner algorithms that feed your inner critic – now’s as good a time as any. What does your inner critic say to you?

Where does that come from?

What familial, cultural, or societal stories shape that narrative? 

What’s true and what is not true? Is there a positive intention to the origin of this voice?

Is there another inner algorithm –perhaps the Divine Source code – of a benevolent caring voice, too?

What new story do you want to grow into? Write it out.


Photo by Tara Cousineau

Photo by erin mckenna on Unsplash

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