Dear Why Team Member,
I hope this week’s message finds you well and living an empowering story.
This week we ask:
Why are stories important, and why question the quality of our stories?
Ask anyone “Tell me your story” and you are likely in for a treat - one that may last for a while. What you may learn most about the person is the story on which they have built their life, built their identity. On a recent tour of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam with my family, I was privileged to get to know our Cambodian guide. He was merely a child when he heard English spoken by a census taker who had visited his family’s farm with an interpreter. He asked his mother, “what color is that language?” He smiled while retelling the story, fascinated that he considered color to describe the strange sounds he was hearing from the census taker.
Seeing pencil and paper he also understood that there was work outside of farming; if he could learn this strange language called English. And the easiest way to accomplish it was by joining a Buddhist monastery, there he could find work and receive both support and education. So, at age 14, he told his parents he was leaving the farm to work and learn in a monastery. While they initially objected, his persistence won out.
Very early one morning he climbed onto his rusty bicycle to peddle the 85 kilometers - Imagine that, a 14-year-old child, pedaling 52.8 miles, having to stop every few kilometers to put the chain back on the sprocket and hit the bearings with a rock to stop the screeching sound in the pursuit of HIS dream. SokwiBol, nicknamed Bernie, was turned away from three monasteries. At the 4th monastery’s door, a Monk asked him his story, which was peppered with trials and resiliency including the loss of his two oldest siblings in the ethnic cleansing committed by the Khmer Rouge post-Vietnam War. The monk who listened had lost family in the killing-fields as well and thus made room for young Bernie. For the next eight years from age 14 to age 22 Bernie was up at 4:30am every morning, bringing buckets of water up from a deep well, receiving alms from the community to feed the monks and giving the excess to the poor all while receiving an education that would change his life. While most students in the monastery do not become lifelong Monks, monastic life in Cambodia is the primary path for higher education. Bernie’s story of perseverance and the memory of his humble beginnings fuels a life filled with self-respect and gratitude.
Does your story fuel you or limit you?
How are you writing and re-writing your story?
We experience our lives through the lens of our stories, stories created for us initially, by the circumstances we were born in, stories that cover the expanse of our life and stories of specific incidents on our life’s journey. Becoming mindful of the impact our childhood stories, as well as the stories we created up until now, have on our life experience can empower us to consider re-writing those stories that may be limiting what is possible for us. Take note, figuratively and at times literally, with pen in hand, of the stories that form the foundation of your life. What stories have a hero element, the overcoming of adversity, the development of perseverance - and what stories imply victimhood, permanent trauma or damage perpetuated by story. Extracting the good from all those stories can empower us to live possibilities that were previously unimaginable. A young Bernie and his family had no idea what the future would bring, but putting foot to peddle on that old bike, stopping as much as necessary to hit his bearings with a rock and put the chain back on - with no complaint, but rather a focus on his destination - led to a powerful life and a beautiful spirit. He made our trip all the more special with his big smile and kind demeanor.
It’s no surprise to me that Bernie expresses gratitude for the Americans’ efforts to hold back Communism during the Vietnam war. While many Americans have the story given to them primarily via the media, many of the people who lived through the death and destruction now live in a world vastly different had America not intervened. Of course mistakes were made and innocent lives lost, but Thailand would likely be Communist and a young Bernie, who eventually settled there, and others like him, would not have had the freedom and opportunities that so enriched his life.
Consider reading and hearing more stories like Bernie’s - stories that nurture and fuel what’s possible for all of us, rather than allowing whatever current headline to debase and degrade our optimism and hope. Be more attentive to the stories you hear and especially the stories you tell. Consider visiting with people of different cultures and different ages for a broadened perspective on life and in the end, you’ll be able to craft and tell a better story of yourself.
Read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Why? Because it’s Chicken soup for the soul.
I am very grateful to Bernie and his story - a story I will not forget and one that has helped put my life into perspective.
Seek out the stories that expand your perspective, re-write those that suggest limits and become all the more capable by doing so - for yourself and for others.
Make it a great week!