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Watch for Three “Clever” Stories

As we begin to piece together why people are doing what they’re

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Watch for Three “Clever” Stories As we begin to piece together why people are doing what they’re doing (or equally important, why we’re doing what we’re doing)
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doing (or equally important, why we’re doing what we’re doing),

with time and experience we become quite good at coming up

with explanations that serve us well. Either our stories are com­

pletely accurate and propel us in healthy directions, or they’re

quite inaccurate but justify our current behavior-making us feel

good about ourselves and calling for no need to change.

It’s the second kind of story that routinely gets us into trouble.

For example, we move to silence or violence, and then we come

up with a perfectly plausible reason for why it’s okay. “Of course

I yelled at him. Did you see what he did? He deserved it.” “Hey,

don’t be gi”ing me the evil eye. I had no other choice.” We call

these imaginative and self-serving concoctions “clever stories.”

They’re clever because they allow us to feel good about behaving

badly. Better yet, they allow us to feel good about behaving badly

even while achieving abysmal results.

Among all of the clever stories we tell, here are the three most


Victim Stories-lilt’s Not My Fault”

The first of the clever stories is a Victim Story. Victim Stories, as

you might imagine, make us out to be innocent sufferers . The

theme is always the same. The other person is bad and wrong,




and we are good and right. Other people do bad things, and we

suffer as a result.

In truth, there is such a thing as an innocent victim. You’re

stopped in the street and held up at gunpoint. When an event

such as this occurs, it’s a sad fact, not a story. You are a victim.

But all tales of victimization are not so one-sided. When you

tell a Victim Story, you ignore the role you played in the prob­

lem. You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids facts

about whatever you have done (or neglected to do) that might

have contributed to the problem.

For instance, last week your boss took you off a big project,

and it hurt your feelings. You complained to everyone about

how bad you felt. Of course, you failed to let your boss know

that you were behind on an important project, leaving him

high and dry-which is why he removed you in the first place.

This part of the story you leave out because, hey, he made you

feel bad.

To help support your Victim Stories you speak of nothing but

your noble motives. “I took longer because I was trying to beat

the standard specs.” Then you tell yourself that you’re being pun­

ished for your virtues, not your vices. “He just doesn’t appreci­

ate a person with my superb attention to detail.” (This added

twist turns you from victim into martyr. What a bonus ! )

Villain Stories – “It’s All Your Fault”

We create these nasty little tales by turning normal, decent

human beings into villains. We impute bad motive, and then we

tell everyone about the evils of the other party as if somehow

we’re doing the world a huge favor.

For example, we describe a boss who is zealous about quality

liS a control freak. When our spouse is upset that we didn’t keep

a comm i tment, we see him or her as inflexible and stubborn.

In Vict im Stories we eX�lggcrate our own innocence. In Vil lain




Stories we overemphasize the other person’s guilt. We automatical­

ly assume the worst possible motives while ignoring any possible

good or neutral intentions a person may have. Labeling is a common

device in Villain Stories. For example, “I can’t believe that bonehead

gave me bad materials again.” By employing the handy label, we are

now dealing not with a complex human being, but with a bonehead.

Not only do Villain Stories help us blame others for bad

results, but they also set us up to then do whatever we want to

the “villains.” After all, we can feel okay insulting or abusing a

bonehead-whereas we might have to be more careful with a

living, breathing person. Then when we fail to get the results we

really want, we stay stuck in our ineffective behavior because,

after all, look who we’re dealing with!

Watch for the double standard. When you pay attention to

Victim and Villain Stories and catch them for what they are­

unfair characterizations-you begin to see the terrible double

standard we use when our emotions are out of control. When we

make mistakes, we tell a Victim Story by claiming our intentions

were innocent and pure. “Sure 1 was late getting home and didn’t

call you, but I couldn’t let the team down! ” On the other hand,

when others do things that hurt us, we tell Villain Stories in

which we invent terrible motives for others based on how their

actions affected us. “You are so thoughtless! You could have

called me and told me you were going to be late.”

Helpless Stories-“There’s Nothing Else I Can Do”

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