This is another post inspired by one of the books I read for my 52 in 52 book challenge in 2013.
I’ve been exploring the word ‘story’ for a few weeks now. Have you ever had that weird feeling that a word no longer makes sense because you’ve said it so many times? I feel a bit like Iago Montoya, not really sure that word means what I think it means anymore.
In searching for blogging inspiration this week, I came across this quote from City of Dark Magic, a fantasy novel by Magnus Flyte, recommended to me by one of my best friends when I was looking for the next book in my 52 in 52 challenge.
“We will be judged by what we seem to be, No one is ever tried for what they are.”
I came across this phrase during one of the more challenging and transformational periods of the past year. In August 2013, I sat up late into the night with this book, my closest confidant as I was reeling from the news of my grandmother’s passing, miles away from home in a retreat centre bedroom in Atlanta, Georgia. Having spent the past few days caught up in the incredibly moving, hilarious, and inspiring stories of students attending the LeaderShape Institute, my mind was, to say the least, as full as my heart was heavy.
This continued near obsession with defining, understanding, telling, sharing, and writing stories has made this line take on a very different meaning now than it did back then. That long night gave me eyes to read this quote and a head to understand it as profound, but my heart was too sore and my mind too weary to appreciate it. At the time, I wanted to appear, to seem, more in control than I was. I wanted to be judged as able to carry on while my heart was breaking, to solider on and stand tall under pressure. I wanted to be one of those tales you hear of brave, courageous characters who, despite all odds and seemingly crushing pain, continue to do great things with a smile. I didn’t just want to create a highlight reel, I wanted to live it.
Now, in the context of stories and story telling, I find this quote especially fitting. The stories we tell are often shared in headlines and highlights – status updates, tweets, texts, pins, and posts crafted to show off what we deem our best selves. We want to seem in control, appear to be on top of the world, conveying a perfection so fleeting and fanciful we could continue to run toward it and it would always be on step ahead.
This, then, is how we are judged. We anticipate and abhor evaluation, choosing to build electronic walls around ourselves to lessen the anticipated sting of someone reading beyond the book jacket to find a scribbled first draft of a storybook in progress, full of plot twists and plot holes. Flyte’s use of the term ‘tried’ is especially poignant. In a court of law, one is put on trial for a crime, for a deviation from a strict set of rules designed to maintain moral and social order. While perhaps a large leap from crime to storytelling and highlight reels, it is telling that we would rather be judged for what we only appear to be rather than be tried for what we are. Further, why do we assume we will be tried? Are we so quick to put ourselves at a disadvantage, judging more favourably the big moments and accomplishments that seem impressive to be our alibi for the more seedy and shady lives we lead behind the scenes?
It is telling that this quote uses such harsh, intrusive language to describe versions of our selves. Judgement and being on trial call to mind the constant show we act out for the jury of our peers – the daily displays of evidence of a life better led and more fully lived, and the pointed questions we try to avoid one tweet and post at a time. On the witness stand; on our profile page; we face the harshest and most ruthless cross examiner – ourselves. We are judged by who we seem to be, perhaps, not only because it is the carefully crafted image we choose to show but also, in some strange way, it is who we now believe we are, or, at most, who we must be. Being judged seems like the proverbial lesser of the two evils – at least in being judged, we are being seen.