“It might be said that each of us constructs and lives ‘a narrative,’ and that this narrative is us, our identities.”– Oliver Sacks
That’s a quote from legendary neurologist Oliver Sacks. Let’s break it down.
The first part: “Each of us constructs and lives a narrative.” As we go about life, we experience different events, encounter different obstacles, and interact with different people. And these events and interactions become our memories.
We all know that the same people observing the same events will very often pull away a very different interpretation of what happened. And different people ascribe different levels of meaning to that experience.
What matters is not what happens to us, but the story we tell ourselves about what happened.
And then: “this narrative is us.” Over time we create narratives about events, and then string narratives together that cross-reference each other. And this spider web of stories becomes our identity—the reason we do what we do, the reason we are who we are. This narrative is us.
And there’s an upside to all this. Since through our storytelling we create ourselves, it’s also within our control to retell our stories, to recreate ourselves at any moment.
What stories do you tell yourself about who you are? Are you reciting a narrative of who you want to be? Are there any parts of your narrative you’d like to retell?
– Oliver Sacks (2006). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
– cited in: Bruce Feiler (2020). Life is in the Transitions.
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