The idea of the personal narrative is one that has surfaced several times over the past year, from a few different thoughtful people in conversations I’ve gotten to share with them. In particular, the idea of a grand style personal narrative.
This is probably a good point to go into the definition space. What on earth am I talking about, personal narratives – grand ones at that? I’m referring to the fact that we all have a personal narrative about our life, about how we share our lives with others like family, friends, or even community. It is our internal telling of our story, past, present and also our future. A personal narrative is about your life, so it will reflect your individual way of moving through the world. That individuality also means that your personal narrative can be about *anything* in your life, career, personal wish lists or bucket lists, family, education, any other kind of goal or significant (to you) milestone. This is just a name I’m giving to something that we’re fairly aware of existing generally speaking. The ‘grand’ aspect comes into it in the way that, the narrative that someone has for their life has some kind of perceived grandiose intention, perhaps it is changing the world, somehow.
Many of the people I know have a grand personal narrative – and largely that is focused on making a difference either in the spheres of personal influence, or in bigger spaces like local community, people in our state or national locale or bigger still… all people in a group, or simply all people, everywhere. Often this grand narrative has a certain kind of gradation to it, the action may be in a direct sphere of influence, but the intentionality may be rooted in a much bigger space for change or cultural shift such as for a marginalised group or society at large. I am reassured by the fact that the people surrounding me all have some kind of bigger vision about them, some kind of thing they’re working towards, committed too, striving for. I want always to be surrounded by people who are thinking big and where we are challenging each other to think even bigger.
I want to tell you that I’ve been having conversations with people who are intensely engaged in the positive, the overt ways in which they are running with and living their narratives, grand and otherwise. Unfortunately, mostly these conversations have been around people coming to terms with this idea of a grand personal narrative and the judgement from others surrounding this. I feel that the judgement comes from the space where others give voice to their personal cynicism and wish to visit upon the other person and their narrative. It is a little like censure in the sense of ‘how dare they think that they can really pull that off/make a difference?’ For the most part I don’t believe that this imposed cynical judgement intentional, often it’s meant to protect from disappointment, from giving too much, from perceived negative outcomes, and other similar fears.
It isn’t even as though these fears are groundless, often they do have a base for concern. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a reason not to follow through. This idea of a grand personal narrative is a big one, it requires a deep personal commitment and it demands self knowledge and often personal sacrifice. These are the spaces of questioning the commitments we have, the things we believe in and believe we are committed to. Operating outside of ourselves and our individual concerns requires bigger thinking, more consideration, more compassion and more intentionality. If housing the homeless, feeding the starving, creating space for other marginalised groups was so easy, we’d have done it by now. And these are just examples, they’re not indicative of the only spaces a grand narrative can occupy. But the point to take here is that, our commitment to our narrative(s) is tested, time and again – in part it is about our stamina, but also our willingness to evolve our view and actions in relation to our narrative. It involves being willing to go back to that question of what does doing this thing really mean to me, why do I care so much? If it didn’t matter to us, we wouldn’t make it through the hard parts, the testing parts, we wouldn’t question ourselves and our course(s) of action.
The negative judgement around grand narratives and the effect they have on the lives of those undertaking the narrative, or those surrounding them seems to be concentrated in one of a few ways. Such narratives are perceived to be of detrimental effect on the person doing the action, there is the perception that the narrative or its purpose is of questionable value, or the perception that whatever your commitment is, it’s ‘someone else’s job’. There’s also that strong pull toward being part of the group and the status quo preservation – and that’s the antithesis of undertaking any kind of grand narrative. It’s that desire for everyone to achieve to about the same levels as each other, avoid standing out too much, don’t be a ‘tall poppy’. There are always people who truly excel are rare and celebrated but always in spaces where ‘heroes’ are recognised – in Australia that’s the sporting arena. It’s generally seen as not okay to want to be your own kind of ‘hero’, making a difference, especially if you’re open about it.
Well… I am out to be a hero. I am out to make a difference. I am out to shift culture and have there be more space for everyone to exist in their own way, where we don’t diminish others, where equality is not just available but is present in useful and flexible forms. I have a grand narrative, it’s about the importance of love and seeking to ‘unfuck’ the conversations we have about it. My narrative is about the importance of kindness and that all of us are human, moving through the world trying to do the best we can.
Why is this important to me? Why do I want to be immersed in spaces where people have varied flavours of personal narratives? This is our life… this is my life. I want to give everything I can, I don’t want to waste a moment or wonder if there was something else that I let slip by. What on earth is the point of not having something that you’re working for, fighting for, seeking to grow or change? No matter how small or big you think it is… having *something* I think is incredibly important and how we mark participation in society, being part of it – recognising our own ability and responsibility to contribute and influence things.
This is the world I have to live in, and it is often an unkind world, there is a sense of ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’ and vast differences and inequalities between these spaces and those who occupy them. I’m not a huge fan of the status quo, I appreciate the need to plateau and stabilise things but I never want to be standing completely still. I want to appreciate where I’m at, where I’ve come from… but I always want to be moving forward being my best self and making a difference for the world in my own unique way. Oh yes, my grand personal narrative? Well I’m certain that there is more than one going on. And I am definitely on the level of global humanity, with various subsets, depending on the individual narrative.
Don’t be sad about or seek to come to terms with having a grand narrative… take it and run with it, both hands and trust yourself and that you have the right to give back and contribute, to make a difference on a small or large or massive scale. You have every right to your commitment to whatever it is that drives you, compels you, keeps you up at nights and thinking or dreaming about a different or modified future. You get to do this regardless of how others value your commitment, you are the person you have to live with inside your head for the rest of your life. Trust those inside questions that make you squirm, like how much does your belief in something *really* mean to you… does it mean enough to you to give up something, or take on something, be brave somehow, learn something, teach something, listen or speak to something. Only you can answer that and no one else gets to make that decision for you. Or how you go about things. Or what success looks like.
This post is dedicated to all of you with whom I’ve shared this conversation, your personal grand narrative is your amazing theme song and I want to see you live it with all the commitment, flair, personal compassion and integrity that I know you have. And all the other quirky and uniquely you aspects too. I want to, and look forward to, marvelling at your awesome and I wish to do this many times over.