The power of omission in storytelling
Choosing the stories we tell is equally as powerful as choosing the ones we don't.
Storytelling helps us shape others' perceptions of us. However, while the outside world can piece together a picture of us based on the stories we choose to divulge, the identities we perpetuate (through our words and actions) can also be influenced by the stories we choose to leave out. The cool thing is, we can apply these exact same principles when shaping our own perception of "self".
Through omitting certain details, we can harness this "superpower" of choice to build ourselves into the character we'd like to be.
Let me demonstrate this in action by sharing my fitness story.
Read the following very carefully. As you go, recognise the emotions that arise in you towards this character. Note that this is of course a condensed version of a far more layered story!
Mim never took any interest in sports or exercise whatsoever until she was 19. It only took signing up for her first ever gym membership for Mim to fall in love with fitness.
At 23, wanting to give greater purpose to her fitness pursuits, Mim took her training to the next level and entered body building competitions. Making this decision only two months in advance of stepping on stage, Mim made a dramatic change - she traded a heavily cardio-centric regime for heavy weight lifting.
Over the four years that followed stepping into the gym, Mim went from being the girl that never participated in P.E. (physical education) to the girl who could do 80 minutes of consecutive, non-stop burpees (over 1,000); could deadlift more than double her weight (105kg); and entered in a competition renowned for being one of the most disciplined and enduring sports in the world. She felt empowered and unstoppable.
Notice the shift in how you come to see "Mim Kempson"?
This is just my "fitness story". When speaking about myself in other contexts, I could choose to tell you my relationship status, how many loved ones have died in my life, what my sexuality is, the sorts of abuse I’ve been exposed to. Yet I choose to share other key experiences and details with the world because it's those selective aspects of "Mim" that I would like to magnify and become. I shift focus away from the old narratives that aren't serving me.
Just think, if I can guide you to visualise me in a certain way through words alone, you can equally guide your own thoughts to build a perception of yourself - the version that you want to be.
In the second story I draw so much attention to my deformity that it comes to define me and be the focus, the giant obstacle, the main theme. It defines how you (and I) interpret and contextualise every. single. story. I share thereafter.
A tiny piece of information can bring bias and memories into the equation. It leads you to draw on your own stories and experiences of disability and body image, bringing to the surface your pre-conceived beliefs and opinions, which then shape your perception of "Mim".
I don't want the hardships I've experienced to belittle and drown out the virtue of the accomplishments I've made. I don't want my deformity to be the focus of the story. I want how I think to be what that defines me - not what I do, or how I walk through life (pun alert).
Through practicing feature-style non-fiction writing I have been led to truly recognise how choice of words can powerfully shape our realities. Therefore, just as we can use stories to guide the emotions that people feel towards us, we can guide our own emotions by choosing the stories that play over in our mind.