Your story—your narrative—is your bridge between experience and action. It works like this:

  1. Something happens, then . . .
  2. You figure it out—make up your story, then . . .
  3. Your choices and actions emerge from the story.

In human systems dynamics (HSD) we call this Adaptive Action—WHAT? SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? You do it all the time, whether or not you are aware of it. The HSD models and methods are designed to help you become more conscious of the process. The goal is for you to choose your story, rather than having your story choose you.

These are days of alternative truths, racial violence, and emerging authoritarianism for many of us. On the other hand, these turbulent days are also awaking us to gender awareness, historical trauma, courage to dissent, and empathy for strangers at home and abroad. Depending on your story, you may see these patterns as threatening or promising. All these patterns begin with someone’s experience, but they take their power from narrative. Those narratives are driving conflict for individuals, gangs, neighborhoods, and legislatures across the US and around the world. You know those stories:

  • The world belongs to “us.”
  • I am without guilt.
  • We are victims.
  • They are unreasonable.
  • I deserve . . .  
  • History is clear.
  • The experts will tell us.
  • I wish they would just . . .
  • I am so woke!
  • I don’t have a racist bone in my body.
  • Everybody knows . . .

You may feel hopeless about influencing such powerful patterns for others. You may even have little hope of changing them for yourself, but you are not helpless. You are in charge of your own narrative. You choose.

I admit I’ve not always chosen well in these difficult and confusing times. I have sometimes allowed others’ stories to become my reality. At other times, I held onto my story, even when my experience challenged it. I have presented my story as if it were absolutely true for everyone. I have called upon others to confirm my story, so I feel safer and more righteous. I have avoided claiming a story, even when I felt a moral obligation to choose. I’ve spoken when I shouldn’t have and held my silence when I had something important to say. I am sorry for all these mistakes and bad judgments, but I am equally certain that I will repeat them all again and again. I will never choose perfectly, but I would like to choose more wisely more often. I wish others would choose more wisely, too! (Oops, there is that narrative trap again!)

So, what can I do? 

  • Own my story. Know what it is. Take responsibility for it. Recognize my agency to change it.
  • Critique my story. Consider its sources of evidence and possible consequences.
  • Choose my story. Test its truth and usefulness for myself, for others, and for the earth. Understanding its risks and benefits, claim the story to “turn turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all.”
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