When an author tells a story one of the first things they have to do is place their characters in roles and in a world that has rules. The rules and roles will be different based upon the character and the world. A young wizard in a world where magical things are possible will have different roles and rules than an old cowboy riding into the old West. Even within the same world the rules can be different. A private in the army, for example, operates under different rules and certainly a different role than a general. Rules and roles work in a story because it imitates our life. Often the roles we play are second nature, like the feel of clothing on top of our skin that we no longer notice and the rules are as much a part of the environment we live in as the air we breathe.
The rules that we live within are dependent on the numerous roles we play within our lives. Some are gender determined: there are different cultural expectations for men and women. Men are shown from a young age to put their work above everything else (even family), to not express pain or weakness, and that the cultural expected role is for them to be the provider. Some rules come out of one’s place within a family: a young son or daughter should have different rules and constraints than a teenager or a young adult. Some rules come from the organizations and work that one is a part of. In my life the expectations as a military officer and later as a pastor were very different, for example language that was assumed to be a part of the life in the military are no longer considered appropriate in a more ‘holy’ calling by many.
Rules are not bad, we need rules to make sense of our lives and world. However, there are times where they can become stifling. Roles may fit us like a second skin or we may feel like we are continually wearing a mask that covers up our true self. Often these parts of our lives are invisible until a major change comes that changes the rules and roles. Things that we may have assumed to be true about our lives no longer hold up under the stress of the changes that go on within our lives.
So what do we do when the rules no longer work and the role we once played no longer fits. That is where the hard part of the story begins. Much like the people of Israel on their long Exodus from Egypt we may long to return to the places we knew and the security we once had (even though it might have been its own type of enslavement). Yet, in a story this is act 2, the challenging part of the story where a crisis pushes the protagonist to find our something new about themselves. If a person is in that part of their life it doesn’t feel like a story, it may feel like chaos or freefall. Yet all stories have a beginning point, a Launchpad so to speak and the rules and initial roles are that solid ground that retreats away on the expedition into the scary unknown frontier.
These meditations are based upon the Courageworks course, the Wisdom of Story taught by Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. This is my reflections after session 1.