narratives and self

What are the narratives we choose to tell about ourselves? To whom do we tell them? I’ve been thinking about this question ever since I ran into a professor in the mail room on campus, who asked how I was. I’d just come from Eucharist, where I told my friends I was “good”. To this professor, my intonation of “good” was not particularly compelling (“that was a very American answer”), and I admitted for the first time that morning that I was fighting the beginnings of a cold and wasn’t feeling my absolute best.

This is a trivial, somewhat inconsequential moment, but it’s made me wonder about how we talk about ourselves. There is the level of self-revealing that occurs when people ask how we are–do we answer with a socially acceptable response? Or do we probe a bit deeper into how we are, and perhaps why we are that way in that particular moment?

My example is very much focused on the politics of greetings and the cultural intention of asking “how are you”, which could get into a discussion of cultural norms and politeness vs. oversharing. But I’m more interested at the moment in the ways that we represent ourselves to others more broadly. What is the story we tell others when meeting someone for the first time? What are the things that we want others to walk away from our meeting(s) knowing? Is this desire intentional or unintentional?

I find for myself that this year’s conversations are very different from last year’s. Last year, I spent a lot of time at seminary talking about age in an attempt to convince myself (unconsciously) and others (consciously) that I was supposed to be here. This year, my conversations have shifted to discussing vocation and call. The narrative I wanted last year was that I was young but I still had valuable things to contribute. The narrative I find myself talking about this year is that I’m in discernment, I’m not sure about whether I’m called to parish priesthood, and I’m really okay with that.

I suppose, in many ways, thinking of self-narratives makes me wonder to what extent we allow those narratives to change when they need to. If speaking something to another person has the power to cement something inside of ourselves (which I believe is true), then how can we shift these stories? How do we live into an evolving self-narrative (discernment) in a world that demands static narratives and fixed, certain identities?

And with that–happy Wednesday!

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