The Deep Story

Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart, rather than a piece of our mind.” – unknown

I have a perception problem that caused a disagreement. I adore my brother. I see him as smart, likeable, responsible, resilient and industrious. I also know he has faults and avoids conflicts, will disengage instead of work things out or stand up for himself and has trouble being vulnerable.

We have another family member that sees him as manipulative, irresponsible, underhanded and arrogant.

Generally, we know the same history of my brother with the ups and downs of his life and interpret the story with our own lenses. I see him as the older brother I can always call and she seems him as the schmuck that dated her best friend in junior high.

In this On Being podcast, sociologist and Professor Emeritus Arlie Hochschild talks about the idea of a deep story which she defines as what you feel about a highly salient situation that’s very important to you. A story that explains how we can look at the same set of facts but come up with different conclusions because of the emotions that underlie the story. Her work has been primarily about our political divide – the deep stories of the red states and blue states.

But I see it at work in the stories of my family. It explains why we see things differently and have this perception problem that no amount of facts can solve. It points to the amount and type of work my brother and our family member would have to do in order to rewrite the deep story.

It also predicts that my brother and I will probably always be in accord through the rest of our lives. For me it makes some sense out of the unconditional love and adoration I have always felt and acted on through our many different phases of life.

Finally, it reminds me that the work of empathy for and listening to others is not only necessary for our relationships but also possibly the most transformative. Because even when we don’t agree on the facts, understanding someone else’s deep story at least brings the a-ha moment of understanding.

Are their deep stories in your family? Are there places where facts don’t seem to matter?

(featured photo from Pexels)

31 thoughts on “The Deep Story

  1. Thanks for sharing another wonderfully rich post, Wynne. I love the quote that you began it with: ““Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart, rather than a piece of our mind.” Yes, there are deep stories in my life–some of them unite, some separate; but beyond all the stories (which I feel are just “that,” –stories), oh, how I love the feeling of heart, throughout all. 🙏

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    1. You are right – they are just stories, Art! And I love how you point out there is a river of love and richness that flows through it all, waiting to embrace us!

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  2. I’m an only child but I see the deep story divide with my husband and his sisters. He and one sister have the same perceptions about how they were raised, while the other sister remembers an entirely different childhood. As an outsider it’s fascinating to see how the same events are interpreted differently.

    An aside: I agree with your statement: “listening to others is not only necessary for our relationships but also possibly the most transformative.” I sometimes wonder if people don’t listen on purpose, so that they aren’t faced with the necessity to embrace transformation. I see that among siblings, too.

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    1. Oh my goodness – sounds like my family, Ally. How interesting that you watch it from a little bit of the “outside” as a spouse. And I think we’ve talked about what happens when parents die and how that makes it worse.

      Your comment about transformation is such a great insight. I think you might have nailed that one – we have to be ready to transform and before that, we close our ears (and hearts?) to maintain our ground.

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  3. Ah, the Deep Stories. Raised in a culture of comparison, my sibling and I still react with jealousy rather than empathy to each other’s stories. It is a constant source of pain, yet I haven’t resolved the core problem. I cannot see a solution.

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    1. I hear you, Rebecca. That is so tough but your awareness of what’s happening must be a little healing at least for you, I hope. I cannot see a solution in my family either. The human capacity for these deep stories is fascinating — and maddening!

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  4. You musta’ got ahold of my family’s diary Wynne 😊

    A long time ago, lamenting some family conflicts with a pastor, he said something that has helped me mitigate family frustrations over the years . . .

    ” To live above with the folks we love – that will be glory.
    ” To live below with the folks we know – that’s another story”.

    Stay the course sister, and . . .

    Keep Looking Up … His Best is Yet to Come!

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  5. I feel this. There are a lot of examples I can point to in my life, but currently my 63 year old mom just went back to a boyfriend everyone in her life can only view from the lens of his past mistakes. She seems something none of us do, and I fear for her it’s going to end badly. Perception is an interesting beast.

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  6. Oh yes! I have a very large family and emotions/feelings and communication were not taught, and we all have such strong personalities. As a result, there are so many deep divides that I have a hard time being present with them in a group. It’s exhausting. Some I hardly speak to at all. It causes a lot of contention, which I get blamed for because I’m a communicator now and need to talk about it and work things out. It never goes well. There is so much from our childhoods that is just swept under the rug. Some things I’m ok with letting go of. They aren’t important, but some things……they matter. Those are the things they want to act like never happened. People are interesting creatures for sure! Great piece!

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    1. You said it so well – people are interesting creatures for sure! And your comment about being present with a group that has so many undercurrents being exhausting is fascinating. It’s like everything that we don’t talk about is the under the water part of an ice berg and it has so much weight! Thanks for reading and adding this great comment to the thread!

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      1. Iceberg! My family is the titanic!😂. The band is playing the music and I’m over here screaming, “Were sinking! Hello! Does no one see that were sinking!” Oh my goodness….

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  7. Hochschild is essential reading for understanding the political differences between left and right. As you indicate, Wynne, our perceptual tendencies in our familial and political lives resemble each other. The people and their lenses are the same.

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  8. Love that quote. I have a friend of 35 years that decided to end her friendship with me, because of differing views during the pandemic. I never thought that differences in opinion would ruin an otherwise long standing, mutually supportive relationship. I reached out to her so we could talk, listen to one another and try to understand what was driving all this. I asked if I offended her in any way and if so I wanted to ask for forgiveness. She said I never offended her … it was just a matter of differing views and wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I love what you stated in your last paragraph …. “it reminds me that the work of empathy for and listening to others is not only necessary for our relationships but also possibly the most transformative. Because even when we don’t agree on the facts, understanding someone else’s deep story at least brings the a-ha moment of understanding.” This is so important in saving relationships and what I hoped could happen with my friend. Great post, Wynne.

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    1. Oh Nancy, I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing that story. This pandemic has had so many tragedies and I’m so sorry your friendship is counted among them. I loved that you reached out to your friend to try to work through it and I pray that the possibility remains open for a future mending of the friendship. Thank you for such a lovely and real comment.

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  9. What an interesting concept that I learned today: “deep story.” I can definitely see how this is applicable with political divides. And especially in familial environments rife with conflict and misunderstanding.

    It is, as you noted, all down to a willingness for all sides to empathize, listen and try to view things from another person’s perspective in order to achieve a peaceful way forward.

    It’s a good thing you and your brother have harmony. Maybe that’s all that matters in the end?

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    1. I thought deep stories was a fascinating concept too. And makes so much sense!

      You’re right – maybe the only thing that matters in that we have harmony. It’s something I’m very grateful for at least!

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  10. What a powerful lesson.. its interesting. There are as many opinions as there are humans on the planet! Everyone sees things differently and interprets people and relationships in a different way.
    Thank you for sharing 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It depends on us what filter we would like to attach to our eyes while looking at others…… Do we want to look only at the darker side or the brighter side….. We will always get to explore the shade we r more focused on…

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