I have a young friend in hospital, undergoing treatment for Leukaemia. We’ve started writing to each other on Facebook. Today we were talking about how things are framed and I realised how much this has come to mean to me.
The story I told him was one I heard a long time ago, about a retreat in Findhorn Scotland, for people dealing with traumatic life events that had come to define who they were as adults, and how they were living. The story I shared with my friend was about two young women, twins, who had both been horribly abused as children by their father, between the ages of 8 and 15 when, I think, the father died. One of the women, with good therapeutic help, had come to frame what happened to her constructively. Whilst she couldn’t change what happened, nor the trauma she experienced as a child, nor the betrayal of a central trust in her life, she reconstructed what happened so it did not define her adulthood. She came to see her father for what he was, and to know that what he did, no matter how horrible, had not destroyed the essence of who she was, either physically or psychologically. She found a ‘frame’ to put around that period of her life, a frame that shed insight into the choices her father made and why, a frame that changed her from a victim, to a human being. She started to develop a picture of herself that included a sense of her compassion, wisdom, capacity for forgiveness and genuine insight, which perhaps might not have emerged had she not had to deal with her father’s behaviour.
Her sister, by contrast, felt her past created an inescapable prison. Despite years of therapy, she carried with her a rage and hurt that emerged in periods of great self destruction, during which no one could help her because no one understood what it was like to be her. She defined herself as a victim of abuse. She struggled to develop relationships as an adult with men. Her father, and at an unconscious level all men, was a looming monster for whom she would always carry a hatred and fear. Her frame was this is irrefutable, men are monsters, I am damaged, no one understands.
When I first heard these two stories, I felt immense sadness for both women, conscious that their stories were, in truth, awful. I didn’t judge either woman’s outcomes, I just recognised that somehow it had come to pass that one sister only had managed to ‘reframe’ her life as a child so she could live fully as an adult, the other hadn’t (short and long straws).
Understanding this phenomenon, however, has gone on to be a life interest for me. I have watched people everywhere frame moments, interactions, events, in which they have played a part. I have watched how some people frame or reframe moments in time, in ways that are helpful, and some frame or reframe those same moments in time in ways that undermine who they are going forward.
I have come to a realisation; how we frame and reframe our life’s journey is the difference between controlling (or at least feeling that we control ) who we are and how we are evolving OR somewhat being a victim of life in general. Life happens, we become an inevitable outcome of the events and influences of life, and we do our best. End game.
Yet there are these ‘others’, people who’ve managed to turn framing and reframing into an art form. Sometimes that might seem irritating to others; ‘that’s not what happened’ they say, when the person in question frames the event in a way that differs from what another person sees as ‘fact’. ‘You exaggerate’, ‘You don’t tell the truth’.
Sometimes, I see that this ability to reframe life can just be a convenience, a way of avoiding what’s actually happening and so it limits people in a whole other way. But often I notice that when it is done with integrity, with a view to generating constructive choices in the present, when it helps a person move forward, or feel better about who they are and what they can do, then it is a deeply enabling skill.
It occurs to me today, as a stormy evening darkens the sky outside my office that we really need to think about reframing our influence in shaping the world around us. In One World Atlast, I tell the story of the Arabian Prince and the Bird, an allegorical story about recognising that changing the future will come from an accumulation of small actions, by ordinary people, that are deeply, intentionally thought-full, based on a frame of the future that says ‘I can make a difference, my actions do count, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I will play my part’.
It’s easy to think that choosing recycled toilet paper won’t change global climate.
It’s easy to think that getting angry in traffic at someone else’s stupidity won’t make a difference to violence in our world.
It’s easy to think that diminishing another person at work won’t make a difference to the growth of compassion.
It’s easy to think that a thousand small and thought-less things we do won’t change the course of our world…
But you can reframe it.
And then you will see that every action counts.
And if every action counts, you matter more than anything right now, in the simplest of choices that you make.
That’s my frame.