Day 15 of 40 Days of Story: Who’s the real you + how conflict can reveal it.

This week we explored conflict–in all of it’s glory. It drives the story in films, books, plays and it plays a powerful role in our own stories.

 

If you’re like me, you often wish conflict would take a day off and let joy (or success, ease or love) hog the spotlight for a while. However, conflict is rarely a slacker when it comes to good stories. And if we let it, conflict can serve us well.

 

The famous screenwriter guru, Robert McKee, talks about conflict having two majors purposes:

  1. It reveals the true character vs characterization of the hero. Essentially when the hero faces challenges, we get to see what is the hero’s true self versus false self. Or said this way: how does the hero like to think of himself/herself and how is he/she really like under pressure.
  2. It shows how much our hero desires whatever he/she is pursuing. When the challenges stack up, how much is our hero willing to fight for the goal, chase the quest?

 

As much as I’m not a natural fan of conflict, it has its gifts. It–like few other things–can help reveal what I am truly like versus the ideal self I’d like to think I am. And when I pay attention to that gap…well, that’s this incredible invitation to grow more into my true design.

 

Conflict can also show much how much I really desire something…it puts my WHY to test. Currently, as a Startup Founder, I am in the throes of what is literally termed the “Trough of Sorrow.” Seriously this season of moving forward in the midst of obstacle after obstacle with our new company has an official title entailing “sorrow.” Daily I am faced with: How much do I want this?  How long can I endure the Trough of Sorrow?

Source: Paul Graham via andrewchen.co

 

Yet, if I let conflict do it’s good work in me there’s the hope of a The Promised Land…and more.

 

And that’s the hope for all of us…if we create the space for conflict to serve its purpose it will help us become more of who we’re designed to be and help us see how much we desire our dreams.

 

I’d love to hear how conflict is serving you in this season!

 

 

Day 14 of 40 Days of Story: Choose your conflict wisely. What’s the best conflict you chose this week?

There’s nothing like Reality TV to teach you about conflict!

 

My years as a docu-reality producer did just that.  I had the fortune of not having to produce like some in reality TV but the talent I worked with who had been on other shows had some amazing (aka awful) stories of how conflict got manufactured and manipulated.

 

One woman told me her back got burned from night and day having to wear a wireless mic duck-taped to it. Every word she spoke for weeks was “owned” by the show. Another talent said she had to take a medical exam right before the show and was told (falsely) she had a STD. She was a total wreck during the filming.

 

While I never had to generate conflict like that I had my own unwieldy lessons.

 

The first TV show I produced I trekked from Mozambique to Morocco interviewing African leaders on what the West could learn from them. I so desired to celebrate Africa’s culture, I diminished conflict. As I’ve mentioned, my natural bent is to avoid conflict…or more accurately it is to diffuse and convert it to harmony. Well, that showed up in my producing. Yike!  The stories ended up being interesting but not as emotionally moving as they could have been.

 

For my next TV series I was told I needed to cast rising celebrities and Reality TV talent. I knew I had to think strategically about conflict. I couldn’t avoid it, nor did I want to exploit it.

 

I decided to take these rising celebrities on meaningful but stretching trips to Latin America as they chased their dreams and encountered social justice issues. We worked with incredible musicians in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and amazing students in an infamous slum in Haiti and gifted dancers in a tiny village in the Amazon.

 

This became a workable model—the pursuit of dreams and the power of being out of your comfort zone teamed with a bigger perspective and sense of contribution. It was a model I loved…until I had to actually do it myself (crazy story, but I ended up as talent on my own show).  It was hard…but ultimately helpful. I was learning how to use conflict in story as I was figuring it out in my own life.

 

The next series I produced had intense conflict embedded in it. I produced a series on sex-trafficking, interviewing survivors throughout the US and Southeast Asia. I discovered my strength. I could enter into conflict with a confidence and certainty when it came to injustice. My avoidance turned to Bring it on!

 

Yet not everything has that black-and-white, just-or-unjust dynamic. How do you choose conflict wisely in the midst of the messiness of everyday realities and complexities of relationships?

 

I still struggle with that. This week I tried to choose good conflict in the context of a difficult family situation. I was awkward…and ultimately unhelpful. My own hurt and anger hampered my attempt to engage in good conflict.

 

However, like most great stories in the making there are second chances…upon second chances. When I re-engaged I discovered another model for conflict. It’s one I wish I would have started with and almost the exact opposite of my first attempt:

 

  1. I owned what I needed and desired out of the conversation.
  2. I chose vulnerability over defensiveness.
  3. I discovered more of my “Why” to engage that good conflict—I desired deeper relationship.
  4. I invited (versus obligated) the others to fight for wholeness.

 

So…what’s the best conflict you chose this week?

 

And bonus question: I’m curious what’s a model for conflict you’ve come to appreciate?

 

I look forward to hearing!

Day 13 of 40 Days of Story: Is it you against the world? Today let’s name that world.

This week we’ve been using story structure to explore conflict in our own lives. We’ve boldly stared down the external conflicts that chase us and the internal ones that haunt our story. Now, to a third category of conflict.

 

You against the world.

 

In story structure this has many names. It’s “Man versus nature” and “Man versus society”. Some call it “Interactional Conflict[1].” But I like Don Miller’s framing of it as a “Philosophical Problem.” It’s this idea that your story is set in the midst of a larger struggle, a struggle that poses big questions. In Miller’s piece How to Tell a Story he gives a few examples from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Bridget Jone’s Diary:

 

“Examples of Philosophical Problems: Frodo (Will good win out over evil? Will group interests win out over self interest?) Luke Skywalker (Will good win out over evil? Will group interest win out over self interest? Will benevolence win out over greed? Will freedom win out over tyranny?) Bridget Jones (Is life fair? Can love win out over lust? Can self-love and self-acceptance be enough?)”

 

I’ll take this to the personal level…because I hope you will too.

 

At the beginning of this series I shared that I’ve carved out a career of chasing and crafting other people’s stories, and yet I have struggled to tell my own. So, a philosophical question emerges: Does everyone have a story to tell (including me) or only a select group?

 

Then I shared an even more raw desire: I long to know and be known, love and be loved in deeper ways in this season. My internal conflict has had me asking: Am I too much or want too much? And here are a few of my philosophical ones: Can authentic relationships be found through dating apps and digital platforms? Can one show up with congruency in environs that feel incongruent? And, if I go all Philosophy 101 on this: Can anyone be truly known by another? And…what is love?

 

Here’s what I appreciate about this third form of conflict : It reveals that our stories hold big, brave questions. If we can recognize that–and especially if we can carry those questions with us to the end of our journey–we have the potential to gain a surety in our step, a solidness in our soul that will embolden us in the thousand other journeys ahead.

 

May that be so. For you. For me. For us.

 

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

[1] https://gideonsway.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/the-three-levels-of-conflict/

Day 12 of 40 Days of Story: What has you uneasy?

Today, we look at internal conflict…the antagonist within. What in us tries to thwart what we desire in this season?

 

John Bucher’s teaching on the antagonist in screenplays offers us a fascinating starting place:

 

“In really powerful stories the good guy and the bad guy have the same goal but pursue different ways of getting at it.”

 

Bucher gives the example of the movie The Dark Night. In it the Joker and Batman both want the same thing: to control Gotham. But Batman wants peace and the Joker wants destruction.

 

This same kind of vying between the protagonist and antagonist in the movies often happens in our inner worlds. The conflict comes when we pursue something with competing motivations.

 

Our unease reveals our incongruence.

 

And wow! Do I know this well. Perhaps the most striking example in my story comes from when I was pastor on staff at a church. I was the only woman on the teaching team. My desire when I spoke was for people to be deeply encouraged and ultimately transformed by God’s love. But…there was another force at play. I also wanted to be really good…ok, perfect. Since at that time it was a rare gig to teach/preach as a woman I wanted every word to count.

 

Unfortunately that created an unease in me that stole my capacity to be present. It sabotaged my ability to be vulnerable in the moment. As I spoke I was often stuck in my head versus speaking from my heart.

 

I confronted my unease with harsh criticism and “try harder” self-talk, rather than curiosity and grace.

 

I started to embrace a script written by shame: I just wasn’t a good speaker. I was the weakest link. I let my gender down…You know, all those things your ego gets wrong as a wounded beast.

 

But if I would have let my unease tell me a secret…if I would have had a better conversation with my internal conflict it may have been a different story then.

 

Yet, there’s now. The gift of now…that calls me to pay attention to my current unease…to get curious and quiet and listen for its secret.

 

To do as John O’Donohue writes:

 

“May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.”

May you and I be brave as we listen to and enter into our own unease today.

I can’t resist leaving you with John O’Donohue’s For Longing. It’s a favorite.

 

For Longing ~ John O’Donohue

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

~John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us. All rights reserved.

 

 

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