Dr. Bertice Berry is a sociologist, author, storyteller, and inveterate volunteer who is currently devoting herself to making and donating masks. She and her family have made 9,000 so far. She also records a daily story each morning, sharing it both on YouTube and Facebook.
In this recent story she talks about reframing the negative narratives we carry, which can change what we see in others and what we see in ourselves. It’s a way of making peace in our lives, but it takes practice.
That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.” It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.
We need to remember to apply empathy to our own troubles too. The stories we hold about ourselves and the world around us, often subconsciously, can drag us down. These tend to be stories about unworthiness. We live in a culture where worth has to do with wealth, status, followers, beauty, youth, and power. We live in a culture where the worth of others is denied by those who benefit from us versus them thinking. Get enough people to believe less of those who don’t share their skin color, religion, ethnic background, or political leaning and you’ve got a powerful diversion from real issues that affect us all. Instead of acting on climate, healthcare reform, systemic racism, and public health we’re baited to fear and mistrust one another.
Which reminds me of another Dr. Berry story about comic books, old china, and a man’s insistence on acting with honor even while his family was being evicted. His plea, “Please don’t take my integrity,” will stay with me the way good stories often do. Give yourself a few minutes to listen.
When I make time to watch Dr. Berry’s daily story I am always improved by her wisdom, her smile, and her closing “I love you.” She says it like she means it. Is it hard to believe someone means “I love you” when they don’t know you? It’s not hard to believe some people hate people they don’t know, even express hate for every individual who looks, acts, believes, or votes differently than they do. Dr. Berry’s choice to love is so much better. So much healthier, wiser, and kinder. I love you all too.