The Stories We Tell Ourselves

In April we set off to Exmouth with some long term family friends hoping that the weather and swell would be kind to us and we would score some good waves together.

When I say ‘long term friends’ I’m talking 30 years of friendship – a mate I went to school with and a family we know really well. But its not just length of friendship that is significant but also the depth and quality – these are our ‘besties’ who we’d trust with our lives.

We arrived in Exmouth to good weather and even better surf, which was wonderful. Not all of our shared adventures in this town have turned out so well. We surfed morning and night for a few days straight, getting some great waves and generally coming home weary and stoked.

However on the afternoon of the third day there was a rather unfortunate mishap. Sam took off on a wave only to see my friend Stuart right in front of him. Each had just a split second to react in order to avoid a collision, but they chose to head in the same direction and the end result was a rather large gouge in Stuart’s fairly new board where Sam’s fins had cut across it.


Sam apologised and paddled back out. Stuart wasn’t enjoying the day a lot and after the collision he called it a day and paddled in.

Its what happened next that was interesting.

While I was sitting out the back waiting for my next wave Sam paddled over nervously and said ‘Oh Dad… I just put a ding in Stu’s board and he is so mad!’

I thought, ‘Really?…’ I couldn’t imagine Stuart getting really upset about a ding in a surfboard. So I asked Sam about what happened.

‘I took off and saw him there. I wasn’t sure which way he was going to go and then next thing BANG! He’s so angry with me dad. He’s gone in because he’s furious. He’s going to tell me I’m an idiot.’

Suddenly Sam was describing a person I didn’t know. I have seen Stuart get angry occasionally, but I couldn’t imagine this trivial situation was even going to register on his rage gauge, let alone evoke this kind of reaction Sam was describing.

‘What makes you say that Sam?’ I asked. I wanted to know why Sam was suddenly seeing Stuart in this way.

‘I can just tell,’ said Sam. ‘He was mad!’

I was listening, but I needed to push back. ‘Sam! This is Stuart! We know Stuart. Has he ever behaved like that before towards you? Has he ever given you reason to believe he would lose it over a ding in a surfboard?’

‘No… but…’ Sam wasn’t convinced.

I knew Stuart would never see a damaged surfboard as sufficient reason to vent anger on my son so I carried on. ‘Sam you are making up a story in your head about this situation and I don’t believe its true. In fact I think it’s coming from your own fears and anxieties.’

Sam still wasn’t convinced. ‘I dunno dad… I am saw the look on his face… and he’s paddled in…’

Ok – get that. From the look on his face and the fact that Stuart has stopped surfing, Sam concluded he was in trouble.

Such is the nature of our internal monolog that we sometimes create stories that we believe to be true when they are anything but and the more insecure we are as people, the more likely we are to do this.

We interpret body language, voice tone, text messages and emails in different ways depending on our own mood and state of mind, but our interpretations aren’t always accurate. And this is a problem because if our interpretations aren’t accurate then we start to believe lies and this is where relationships come unstuck or people get misunderstood.

Maybe you’ve invited a friend to the movies and got a short, curt text message reply.

‘No – can’t come.’

You can be offended that your friend didn’t gush regret at being unable to join you, or you can choose to believe the best about your friend and assume that you caught her in a busy moment and she managed to quickly get back to you but with minimal information.

The bottom line is that unless you have a face to face conversation you cannot know the tone and intent of the text. You cannot know with any certainty what was going on in her world and her mind when she sent the text.

But – you can believe the best about her. Based on the friendship you have you can assume the best, rather than assuming the worst.

As Sam and I discussed his own inner monolog in this situation he came to realise that he was creating a story in his own mind that was most likely untrue. When we got to the beach half an hour later and saw Stuart there was none of the animosity Sam had expected.

He went and apologised again for the incident and offered to pay for the repairs to the board. Stuart laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry – these things happen.’  There was no hostility – just a gracious, forgiving acceptance that when you go surfing you get dings.

One of the things I have attempted to do throughout life is to believe the best of every person I come across – to give them the benefit of the doubt, until its certain that we have a problem- and to recognise my own tendency to create stories in my mind.

The Bible speaks to this when it says that ‘love always looks for the best’ in the other person.

It’s the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves that unnecessarily destroy relationships – that portray other people poorly – that cause us to react with hostility rather than grace, but the stories actually say far more about us than they do about the other people in question.

If we can get to a place of choosing to believe the best about everyone all the time, then the world may just be a much happier and kinder place!

(And Sam read this before me going public with it)

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