Character

Click-click-click-ding-whir, click-click-click-ding-whir. The rhythm and sound of the typewriter is hypnotic, it brings a sense of absolute calm mixed with a bubbling excitement. My grandmother had a beautiful typewriter that formed the beginning of my love for words. It was definite, once a letter was embossed on that sheet of paper it would be forever living in the world. Over the past few years I have searched for the RIGHT typewriter that could rekindle that passion and I found two that inspire me.

 

One is positioned at the entrance of my home, it sits perched on the mantle as a constant welcome, a reminder to live INTO the world, the return home to swirl these experiences around in my heart and capture that THOUGHT or FEELING.

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The second one is in my study, the space where all the ideas are brought together. As I sit and write this I look at it and it stays in my periphery like a shadow to my soul. It sits resolute and regal on my desk surrounded by the knick-knacks that hold some meaning to me. This typewriter brings a confidence to bring my essence into what I do.

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This SEARCH for identity and meaning through words has pushed me to find just the right combinations to illuminate something in the world, almost like the seacrh for those obscure seas shells on the shore. I tend to keep my head down, combing the sands, picking one up, looking at its sheen, its texture and it resonance… Perhaps this post is just that… introducing you ,the reader, to that internal process.

I was in intense discomfort trying to write this post. I had bits and pieces written over multiple sheets of paper, drawings and word documents. Sitting with that now I feel it was because this is a deeply confusing and revealing post. I wanted to delve into the mechanics of what makes the development of STORY from the base of WHO we are and what we CONSTRUCT as who we are and how we can gain an awareness of this distinction. I will try to keep it to this as the JOURNEY of ‘coming back home’ is a continual process that I am working with myself and with clients.

Okay? Lets go… here is the first seashell…. <fair warning, do some stretches because this walk of discovery will be quite lenghty and might need to be read in multiple sitting>

The world is stitched together by the stories we create. It holds us and can open us up to new possibilities. This post will bring some of the theory of storytelling and how it could be applied in different contexts to bring about change.

If we were to journey back through time what we find is the emergence of ‘folk tales’ or ‘fairy tales’. Much speculation has been made as to the origin of this and what has come out as a consistent thread was the use of these stories as a mean making exercise and a way of navigating the world. Moral tales attempted to teach but also impose a sense of ‘power’ to keep people in line. This shows the true power of Story – the duality of it creating Freedom versus Entrapment. Joseph Campbell describes the immensity of this as “The folk tale is the primer of the picture of the soul”

You might be thinking that Story is quite a cerebral exercise with some emotion cushioned in. What I find fascinating is the application to the Soma, the Body. Think about stories you have heard, there is normally a period of stagnation or distress and the body mimics this as does the ‘evil’ character with stooped shoulders, raised eyebrows. HOW we identify Story in our lives directly impacts the body. I found this research by Bette U. Kiernan, MFT – From MIT (called The Uses of Fairy Tales in Psychotherapy) to be quite confronting

 

Our bodies mirror the same processes found in all of nature. Since fairy tales and myths frequently show the heroine as she goes through periods of darkness to transformation, classic stories may encode patterns for healthy physical function. We deeply know thesemeans of change through the cycles of sleep and wakefulness, digestion, wound healing,menstruation, pregnancy and birth.

 

“Thus an exploration of fairy tales may also be of special value for cancer patients and others with physical illnesses. Disease prognosis improves when patients respond to theillness with positive visualizations and spiritual growth. Since fairy tales contain powerful imagery of the heroine as she overcomes destructive forces through creative action, they lend themselves to the creation of new stories about the defeat of cancer. As the heroine destroys the witch or wicked stepmother, her resilience strengthens. She models taking potent action to save oneself, and by doing so, might stimulate those with cancer to also fight heartily.”

Marina Warner in her article: Once upon a time – A short history of Fairy Tale says this about Story: Stories that try to find the truth and gives us glimpses of greater things”. What are these greater things? What I am finding that it not necessarily a GLOBAL or UNIVERSAL truth but a PERSONAL truth. Story allows us to get there. In her brilliant entry in a journal paper (Learning about Ourselves Through Fairy Tales Their Psychological Value), Meredith Mitchell says this so eloquently,

 

To understand fairy tales and myths as representative of what goes on inside of us, a basic assumption is that every feature of every story—setting, characters, objects, activities, etc.— corresponds to a factor, principle, or process within the personality”

 

So all stories start with a being, the you that has entered the world and as soon as we enter from the womb this story starts, new characters are introduced and we weave in themes, chapters, structure and pace. The rub is, what IS that identity that entered the world? How do we honour that? This doesn’t just apply to an individual but teams and companies. There seems to be a trend of re-creating and re-branding… What if we started a process of BECOMING by staring bravely at the person/team/organisation in front of us and slowly peel back the layers of defences, resistance and stasis?

 

“A person’s identity,” Amin Maalouf wrote as he contemplated what he so poetically called the genes of the soul, “is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.”

What I have stood witness to (gratefully so) is a yearning for identity in people, organisations and myself. Yet identity is extremely layered and rightly said by Maalouf, you cannot touch one part without another responding. Perhaps we could look at this and WORK on identity through a story medium that will allow us to not just IDENTIFY our identity but work WITH it AS it changes through the process of identification and awareness.

In Story we talk about character… Character is a wonderful way to START the identification process. Grappling with the aspects of a which Character features for you in patterns of behavior across multiple contexts? i.e. what character role do YOU or your TEAM or your ORGANISATION inhabit during conflict, happiness or sadness?

A word of CAUTION though when using Story in a developmental process: CHARACTER and IDENTITY are not the same. We DISPLAY aspects of a character but IDENTITY is more complex, CHARACTER allows us to start a dialogue about this. Quite often we are seduced into using models in a strict sense to ‘predict’ a behavior if say they are an “INFJ” in the MBTI or a BLUE in Insights personality profile or a Type 4 on the Enneagram. Amelie Rorty in her book Identities of a Person makes this explicit:

“Characters are delineated; their traits are sketched; they are not presumed to be strictly unified. They appear in novels by Dickens, not those by Kafka. Figures appear in cautionary tales, exemplary novels and hagiography. They present narratives of types of lives to be imitated. Selves are possessors of their properties. Individuals are centers of integrity; their rights are inalienable. Presences are descendants of souls; they are evoked rather than presented, to be found in novels by Dostoyevsky, not those by Jane Austen.”

I want to highlight this gift again “Presences are descendants of souls; they are evoked rather than presented, to be found” . Sit with this for awhile. I find this so refreshing and SO poignant in my own coaching. IF the coachee allows this, the process is about EVOKING presence instead of finding it and PRESENTING it to the world.

In the Dramatica Model of Story creation we talk about the Character in its different forms i.e.

  • Protagonist: considered the chief proponent and principal driver of the effort to achieve the story’s goal
  • Antagonist: diametrically opposed to the Protagonist’s successful attainment of the goal.
  • Reason: The Reason Archetypal Character is calm, collected, and cool, perhaps even cold. It makes decisions and takes action wholly on the basis of logic
  • Emotion: Wears its heart on its sleeve; it is quick to anger, but also quick to empathize. Because it is frenetic and disorganized, however, most of its energy is uncontrolled and gets wasted by lashing out in so many directions that it ends up running in circles and getting nowhere.
  • Sidekick: The Sidekick is the faithful supporter. Usually, a Sidekick is attached to the Protagonist. Sometimes, how- ever, they may be supporters of the Antagonist
  • Skeptic: The Sidekick is balanced by the Skeptic. Where the Sidekick has faith, the Skeptic disbelieves; where the Sidekick supports, the Skeptic opposes. The nature of the Skeptic is nicely described in the line of a song… “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
  • Guardian: The Guardian functions as a teacher/helper who represents the Conscience of the Story Mind. This is a protective character who eliminates obstacles and illuminates the path ahead.
  • Contagonists: Balancing the Guardian is a character representing Temptation in the Story Mind. This character works to place obstacles in the path of the Protagonist, and to lure it away from success. Because this character works to hinder the progress of the Protagonist, we coined the name “Contagonist”.

 

NOW, lets have a think about how this applies to different areas of development:

  • Individual:

As a coach I listen out for WHICH situations and WHICH people bring up a specific CHARACTER for my client. What role does he/she stay away from? What is the resistance there? What roles are COMFORTABLE?

 This process of inquiry allows a rich landscape to explore (stay tuned for how we merge THIS with Jungian archetypes and internal family systems theory – yes there are more layers – I told you this will be a long journey)

  • Teams/Organisations

Which functions/team members are seen in which roles? How do other team members/functions view THEM? Where is the disconnect happening?

 Its not enough though to merely attach a CHARACTER to a person/team/organization. The first step is to get a DEEP appreciation to the CORE story I spoke about in my previous post. IF we can understand the character dynamics from THAT place, THEN we are making lasting change.

I have just given you a TASTER of what the Empowered Studio’s Powerful Stories ™ methodology is made up of. There is SO much more to explore with clients (and myself). If you have any questions or would like to share YOUR experience with Story and Character (evolving into Identity) leave a comment or get in touch.

 One takeaway: What CHARACTER/S do you most display in your CORE STORY and what might this shut down or open up for you?

 

Wishing you well

Yahya

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