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Stories vs. Truths

The other day, I was helping to facilitate a training for a group of about 60 people.

Part of the training involved watching a very powerful and emotional video.

After watching the video, the large group broke up into smaller groups and had an hour-long discussion about what they had just watched.

Then my role was to take up some collective thoughts from the group's discussions.

That was the moment when I handed the microphone over to a woman who raised her hand.

For the sake of confidentiality, I am going to change her name and call her Jane.

Jane proceeded to tell us all about her personal experience as it related to the video we had just watched.

She said something to the effect of, "To many of you, this is just something we watched. For me, this is my life."

I am leaving the subject matter of the video and of what Jane shared intentionally vague here, because I care more about how we think of the subject matter.

After Jane shared, I asked for her name, took the microphone and I said something like, "Jane, thank you for sharing your story with us."

Let's examine stories for a second.

When I think of stories, I think of books.

And when I think of books, I think of fiction books and non-fiction books.

In other words, a story, can either be made-up (fiction) or real (non-fiction). I guess it could also be a blend of the two, but if it's that then I would put it in the made-up (fiction) category.

At the end of the training, I was speaking to some of my colleagues and I asked them for feedback on how I handled the transition after Jane shared her story. I'll admit, it was hard.

One of them said something that has led me to write this post.

They said, "Shum, you referred to what Jane shared as a story. It's not a story, it's a truth. It's her truth."

Let's examine truths for a second.

Unlike stories, truths can only be one thing.


When someone shares something they have experienced or are currently experiencing with you, you might be hearing a story, but they are sharing a truth.

There is a profound difference between these two things.

Storytelling vs. Truth-Telling.

Storyteller vs. Truth-Teller.

We experience truths and we share stories. That's the usual sequence.

But is it only a story because the person or people we're sharing it with, perceive it as a story?

Because stories have the possibility of being made-up, they can also be rated on some kind of believability scale. In other words, there are ways to tell stories that make them more believable or less believable.

Truths on the other hand, aren't rated on that kind of scale.

Truths ask the listener one question, which is often a simple and hard question: Can you accept what you've just heard?

Truths aren't measured on a scale of believability, they're their accepted or not.

It's a binary, not a scale.

The next time you're with someone and they share what sounds to you like a story, it's worth pausing for a moment and asking yourself:

Is this something that I have to convince myself to believe? Or is this something that I must allow myself to accept?

This difference matters.

p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy The Map is not the Territory (2 min read).

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