Why is it that when we look back on the events and memories of our lives, each person has their own version of a story?

In my Creative Writing class, we started exploring creative nonfiction as a genre. One question that always arises when talking about creative nonfiction is how much truth is included? Can you invent any details?

Well, telling the truth is important, and that’s the ultimate goal of nonfiction. It actually happened. But many people can experience the same event and remember it different ways, or interpret different things, and that’s normal. That’s part of being human. We call this emotional truth. Just because your friend doesn’t remember crying during a movie you saw together, that doesn’t make it any less moving for you. Each person has unique experiences and interpretations and that’s what makes us special and different from one another. And that should be embraced, not shunned.

I think the idea of emotional truth can be applied to life as well as writing. Everything that happens in our lives is an objective, isolated event until we commit it to memory and form reactions and opinions and connections to previous events and tell our friends about it. Then, it becomes a subjective, emotional human experience. And everyone’s reactions and opinions and connections will be different based on their backgrounds and previous experiences. But the important thing is, that doesn’t make anyone more or less right than someone else. Each interpretation is legitimate and should be respected. No one is “too emotional” or “too closed off”. Some people cry during silly commercials, and that’s ok. Some people never cry, and that’s ok. Some people love talking about feelings, and some won’t admit they have feelings. Each of us have an approach to life that works for us, and it is no one’s job to judge or try to change that.

I’m still working on accepting people for their personal, raw selves. My normal reaction when someone has a different expressive style than myself is to push them to be more like me, whether I think they should be sharing more of themselves or less. But that’s not how to understand people.

To observe someone in their most comfortable, most authentic self, you have to sit back and let them express themselves without pressure. You have to back off from questioning and trying to draw them out and let them naturally seek you out. Then, you have to listen, really listen, and accept what they do tell you. Another thing I try to keep in mind is to listen so I can understand, not listening to reply. While replying can sometimes be helpful, being there for the person and letting them get all their ideas out is the main purpose (whether you agree or not!).

Think about a problem you’ve been wrestling with in your brain that you would like some advice about, or an opinion you want to voice to someone close to you. Wouldn’t it be easier to get this off your chest if you were sure they would listen and accept you no matter what you said? Wouldn’t you want them to stay quiet and encourage you while you got through the hard part and hold back their own thoughts for a later time? If we think about our interactions in this way, it’s really very simple. Unconditional acceptance is ultimately what people need to get through emotional times or even just a hard conversation.

Next time you find yourself in a personal interaction where you feel the other person could benefit from acceptance, try it out. Try to listen to everything they say and to not form reactions. Hold back from judging or expressing opinions, or even speaking at all unless it’s reassurance, affirmation or to keep the flow alive.

See where this gets you in your relationships. I know I would benefit from this! 😛