Happiness has scars!

Happiness has scars!

I thought you might like this fascinating and inspiring article from my friend, Michael Bungay Stainer. Although it’s not directly about positive psychology or happiness it is, as far as I’m concerned, very much about finding happiness in the scars we all have. So read on and enjoy…

My First Scar

I got my first scars before I was a week old.

I was born with a cleft lip and palate, something I inherited from my Dad. 

In my first couple of years I had various operations that sewed together the top of the inside of my mouth (it’s not smooth like yours, but has crevasse in it) and also my top lip. One of my two brothers has a cleft lip as does his son, so it’s become something of a family tradition. In fact, when my youngest brother was old enough to realize that he didn’t have a cleft lip and palate, he burst into tears – he didn’t want to be the odd guy out.

A scar is a story waiting to be told

Being a large, enthusiastic and clumsy guy, I didn’t stop there. I’ve spent the rest of my lifetime collecting a whole bunch of other scars.

Knees (endless soccer scrapes, including a run in with one semi-buried brick in London), my hands (falling off bikes, my second date with Box of Crayons’ Vice President of Everything Else), my legs (a wire fence), my face (more bike crashes)… and the list goes on.

And as I think about those scars, there are two things I notice.

First, that each scar has a story. It’s the tattoo of an adventure.
That white line between my ring finger and little finger? That’s the second date scar, and it’s a story involving Aussie Rules, pouring rain, mud, blood, love, a stingy taxi driver, a house full of women, poetry written and lost, and a very happy ending.

The other thing I notice is that my scars, although healed, remain a little tender and a little twisted. You don’t go back to “normal” when you’ve been wounded. Things are a little different.

A scar is an echo of a wound

In some ways, the physical scars are the easy ones to notice – the rips and tears from bumping into things in life.

We’re all carrying more subtle scars as well, emotional bruises from our past.

Times we’ve shamed or been shamed.

Times we’ve shunned or been shunned.

Times when we’ve failed or caused others to fail.

Times when we’ve let ourselves or others down.

These are older, deeper wounds, subtle and hidden. They can shape our behaviour in significant ways.

We back away, not willing to try that again.

We lash out, preferring attack to being attacked.

We lose courage, we play it safe, we hide.

We play the victim or the rescuer or the persecutor – or most likely all of them. 

Your scars can hold you back and limit you.

But there’s another way to see them.

A scar is a story waiting to be told

In fact, two stories.

One story of love. And it’s flip side, one of fear.

One of nourishment. One of diminishment.

Which story you choose to tell matters a great deal. 

Let me show you what I mean.

Here I am. 

Here are two stories I tell myself about my cleft lip and palate. 

They’re both equally true.

My cleft lip and palate means I have a speech impediment, an oddly-shaped top lip, and a somewhat flattened nose

My cleft lip and palate means I have a speech impediment, an oddly-shaped top lip, and a somewhat flattened nose

People find me disconcerting to look at – some people see me as ugly.

I stand out from the crowd. People look twice.

People don’t want to talk to me, because they’re uncomfortable about my cleft lip. Kids especially.

People don’t notice my speech impediment. They just accept me for who I am, especially when I do what I’m best at.

I should operate ‘behind the scenes’ because my speech impediment means I shouldn’t be ‘out front’.

As a professional speaker, my unique style of speaking helps me stand out from the crowd.

If I don’t talk too much, people won’t notice I have a disability. Stay quiet.

People find it easier to connect to me because I have an obvious vulnerability. It balances me out and for some people I role model ‘overcoming a disability’.

This is my disability.

This is one source of my power.

Same scars. Same person. Very different stories.

And by the way, The Smile Train does a fantastic job at helping children born with a cleft lip and palate in developing countries get the surgery they need for a more normal life … should you want to help influence the story their scars will tell.

Scar tissue is the strongest tissue in your body

Or so it’s said. I haven’t actually seen the medical reports to confirm it.

But it feels like it might be true at a metaphysical level doesn’t it? That where we’ve been wounded, those scars we’ve collected could be a source of our greatness.

It also makes it clear that there is a choice to be made. Whatever the facts of the situation, you get to write the story about what it means. In the end, you get to regard your scars as a source of strength and wisdom, or as ties that bind.

I could ask you, what choice are you making?

But a more powerful question might be this:

Is there a wound or a scar you have – physical or emotional – that you’re currently using as a way of limiting who you might be in this world and what you might be doing?

What is it? And what will it take for you to change perspective?