Transcript: Thom Hartmann riffs on stories, 21 July '10.

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back to our program. Alan Grayson, congressman Alan Grayson will be here shortly, he got called off to a vote. But first I want to talk about stories. The importance of stories. We just, you know, we were just talking to Dan Gainor in the last hour. You get a sense of the stories that he tells himself about the world. I think many of you are familiar with the stories that I tell myself about the world. The reality is that we all live in a box that we create for ourselves made up of the stories of who we think we are, what our place is in the world, what we’re all about. Our stories of how we see the world and who we are actually rarely change.

For example, one bright crisp fall day on a Friday in New Hampshire, this was almost 30 years ago, a little girl by the name of Shannon showed up at the New England Salem Children's Village when my wife Louise and I ran the program. This is the community for abandoned and abused children I’ve mentioned often, She was a cute little 10-year-old, pigtails, freckles, seemed harmless and lovable. It was an emergency placement and the social worker who dropped her off didn’t know anything about her history and said she’d get that information for us the following Monday. That night Louise and I who were living in the house next door to where Shannon was staying heard screams coming from this house. So we ran over to the children’s house and Nancy, one of our house parents, explained to us, a few minutes later, everything was fine, but. Here’s what happened.

Nancy had told Shannon to get her pajamas on, get ready to get tucked in, and Shannon did and Nancy sat down on the bed next to her and just reached over to touch her back, just to give her a little pat on the back, and as she touched Shannon’s back, Shannon exploded off the bed at her, screaming, scratching, clawing. Nancy’s training kicked in, she immediately basically wrapped herself around Shannon to prevent this little girl from damaging herself or doing more damage to Nancy and gently talked her down: you’re safe, we’re not going to hurt you, everything’s going to be okay. In the process of this Shannon, the shirt, the top part of Shannon’s what do you call, sleeping clothes, got hiked up, and what Nancy saw was a 10-year-old back that was covered with fresh and old cigarette burns.

What we discovered that night was that Shannon was the little girl who lived with a story that said, this is the story that she told herself. "I’m the little girl who is so bad the only way you can control my behavior is by putting cigarettes out on me." This was a story that over and over and over in her life her parents had validated. And our work over the next several years that she was in the program was to change her stories. Which is one of the most difficult things you can do, to change the story a person tells about who they are and how they fit into the world.

We had to say to her, 'you know that box you think you live in and you that think is all true, that you’re the bad one, the difficult one, the one who’s so bad you can only control, be controlled with violence'? We had to say to her, 'that’s not you'. We had to change her stories over the years to include things like 'I’m the bright one, I’m the lovable one and I can change the world if I decide to'.

Let me generalize this. We all live in our own boxes made up of these stories. They are the ceiling that we won’t pass through, the floor that we can’t step below, the walls that we stay within. Many of us feel safe and don’t ever leave our boxes much. Boxes, stories, story boxes like I’m a conservative, I’m a democrat, I’m a republican, I’m a tea partier, I’m a liberal.

Quite a few people ask me, why do you bother to debate people you don’t agree with? Why do you give air time to conservatives and Republicans? One of the main reasons is ‘cause I work hard not to stay in my box of stories and I don’t like the idea of letting others stay comfortable in their box of stories either. I want us all to question all of these things. I would be doing you a disservice by not only challenging your stories, the stories of my guests, but also my own stories, daily.

Are you the one who always gets angry? Are you the one who doesn’t want to get involved, doesn’t have the time, doesn’t, can’t vote, can’t call your congressperson, it’s not going to make any difference? What are your stories like? “I can’t do that.” Maybe you can. “Oh there’s no hope.” Maybe there is. “Oh I could never tell my conservative father-in-law about politics.” Maybe you could.

Speaking of stories, that program that I mentioned, the Salem Children’s Village,, now lives in the story of a cash flow crisis because the states that pay for kids like this in care, like Shannon, are experiencing their own Republican great recession and payments that were at net 30 and at net 90 are now going net 120, net god only knows. And the program is having a tough time. These are tough times but if you can spare 5, 25, 100, 1000 dollars, whatever you can spare, please help. A very generous donor has offered to match the amount we can raise on any given day so please help if you can.

We now have, Louise and I were up there the weekend before last, another little girl who is 10 years old who can’t go home. And her box of stories is different from Shannon’s. But she has a really tough one too. And we’d like the opportunity to help her grow up with stories that say, 'you’re important, you’re lovable, you can change the world if you want to, too'.

So, A: if you can, if you can help in any way go to, children’s is plural with an S, to donate online or to get the address if you want to mail a check. But also consider this reality. This story is a meta story to the political story. It’s like there is no absolute reality.

We all live, I mean arguably there is but you know we’re, as human beings, we’re all, we experience everything through our senses. Which is all chemical impulses and electrical impulses. We’re experiencing the world, all of us experience the world in a unique way and we all filter all of that experience, including all of that information, through our own filter and that filter is made up of stories. The stories that we tell ourselves. And we selectively decide what to delete, what to fuzz, or what to listen to very clearly. What to see and what not to see. What to grab hold of and what to let go of. We selectively make those decisions.

And certainly one of my biggest concerns, I’ve talked about this on the air many times. We don’t have the luxury of despair, politically. We have to, the story that we have to tell ourselves is we are the people of the United States. We are carrying the DNA of this country. We’re the ones, progressives, we’re the ones who are carrying the story of the progressive enlightenment of the 16th and 17th century: John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. And the philosophers and actors on the stage of politics of the 1600s and the 1700s who changed the world. The ones who called themselves liberals. George Washington said, 'I hope I shall ever live in a society that is progressively more liberal'. 'I hope that America will ever be at the forefront of liberality'. President George Washington, a liberal.

So the story that we need to be telling ourselves in addition to, you know, we’re the compassionate ones is that we’re the empowered ones. We’re the ones who are the actual keepers of the flame, of the DNA of democracy in this country. And therefore it’s up to us, you and me, to get active. This is why I end every show every day with “Tag you’re it.” Because we can’t give up, we have to be active. We have to be outspoken. You know, you see Alan Grayson out there taking chances, speaking up. Congressman Peter DeFazio speaking up. Another brilliant member of congress. Senator Bernie Sanders. You see these and it’s so easy to say oh yeah they’re there, they’re doing my work. No. It’s our work, we all have to participate.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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