I got to see the musical Wicked yesterday evening.
I found it every bit as good as everyone told me it is; a compelling story with interesting characters, told through stirring musical numbers with sets and effects that are some of the best I’ve seen. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but it tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, following her through the events that made her–well, maybe not as wicked as the original story led us to believe.
The story reminded me of something I’ve heard many times, even said a few times. It’s a truth that’s hard to remember sometimes, as we watch others act in ways that to us are so far from heroic as to make us wonder what they could possibly have been thinking. But it’s worth remembering, especially at times like that:
Each of us is the hero of our own story.
It’s such a simple truth, but we forget it all the time–when we wonder how anybody could ever think like that, or how anybody in their right minds could support that candidate, or how anybody with half a brain could possibly say something like that. We project our own experience on others, assuming our own knowledge and values and judgment lie behind their actions as they do behind ours, and we think they must be ignorant, or stupid, or, in extreme cases, wicked.
Except that most of the time, it’s not our knowledge and values and judgment that lie behind others’ actions. It’s theirs. Just as you are the hero of your story, they are the hero of theirs. Neither of you has any idea what it’s like to struggle through life in the other’s shoes. Neither of you has any idea what it’s like to have the unique combination of experience and disposition that makes the other who they are. And if you’re anything like me, you spend time wishing the other would just give you a break.
Here’s a little secret: they’re wishing the same about you.
Make no mistake: there are people who do evil. People who hurt others with no thought but their own personal gain. To protect ourselves, to protect our fellow heroes, even to protect those who would do evil, we have to resist them. But most of the time, most of the people you meet–even the ones who post stuff on Facebook that makes you mad enough to chew rocks–are simply the heroes of their own stories, doing the things their unique combination tells them are the right things to do. In their shoes, you might do the same. In your shoes, they might do as you do.
Maybe the best we can hope for is to give each other a break. Maybe all we can do is to try to understand each other’s unique combinations.
Or maybe we can find the courage to start loving each other’s stories, start taking joy in each other’s uniqueness, start celebrating the fact that each of us is the hero of our own story.
That might make us heroes in truth.