All great stories have really good antagonists.
No matter how bad they are, we can’t write them off. They may be murders or masochists, yet there’s something in them we see in ourselves. It can be terrifying.
That’s why I like to only consider antagonists while at the movies, reading a book or at a play. The idea there may be one in my own story makes me not want to write this post. (The reality is I’ve been avoiding writing it all day…)
The more we get clear on who–or what–is the antagonist in our current story, the more directly we’re able to move toward our desires, dreams and goals.
So, today’s post is about naming that external conflict/antagonist in our story. For most of this, it’s not easy. Rarely do our stories play out with the precision of screenplay scripts. And if you’re like me, you’ve deftly constructed a world without enemies (mainly to avoid conflict). I realize this is a fortune that many in war-torn countries around the globe don’t have.
Here our antagonists tend to be more subtle and more subversive.
A few years back I attended a film festival where John Bucher, a gifted screenwriter and teacher, spoke about the antagonist in story. He shared this:
“If you can get your bad guy right, you can likely get the good one. One of the most powerful things you can do is make the good and bad guys related. You can’t get away from those you are related to. The closer in relationship the more powerful the story.” [Classic example: Star Wars.]
Here’s the dark reality: those we love dearly can be antagonists in our stories…and we can be antagonists in theirs.
And as I said, this antagonism is not often overt…and many times unconscious.
To reference another John…John Gottman, a renown psychological researcher and clinician. He talks about how one of the most damaging things to relationships is when one feels like the other holds his/her dream captive.
It’s those little ways we block one another’s dreams that turn into those little resentments that then block little expressions of intimacy…that then turn into big trouble.
And here’s the crazy thing: when it goes unnamed it gains power. Someone we love may be blocking our dream just a little because we’re blocking his/hers…because our dreams may be tied to competing values. Or our private logic may oppose one another without even knowing it.
But there’s hope.
When you think about the desire/dream you’re chasing in this season ask: Is there someone I love that seems to make it more difficult or I assume will not support it? Who is it?
Rather than going all Kill Bill as you think of that person…get curious. Consider what he or she may be wanting/needing? Could your desire be threatening his/her dream?
Let your curiosity entice you towards empathy. How might that person be experiencing your desire? What feelings and thoughts are being provoked in him/her as you chase it?
And now for an even tougher challenge, let curiosity and empathy call you to a courageous and loving conversation. Instead of accusing your antagonist, create a space for him or her to share. Be poised to receive it with empathy.
Brene Brown says it beautifully:
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
I believe resentment can’t survive either.
So…Who or what is holding your dream hostage?
Your mission, if you choose to accept: Initiate a courageous and loving conversation with that person. Be curious and empathetic.
And for extra-credit consider this: Whose dream can you set-free?
Answering that one…well, that’s a call to true transformation…