What’s Your Story?

The Boston-marathon-events hijacked last week.

It was everywhere. Twitter, television, the web. Even when I didn’t wish to engage, Boston played on the TV monitor at my gym, behind the counter at California Pizza Kitchen.

Boston carried loads of psychic energy.

Something horrible happens. We have an instant emotional response. Sadness, outrage, empathy, indignation, fear.

The first response is primal. The remainder is pure story. I want to call it “the Boston tragedy” – and here we are, smack in the middle of “story.”

On Tuesday indignance kicked in. A tweet linked me to the headline What is the meaning of this? I wanted to scream, It’s way too early to contemplate meaning! We’re in the middle of it, we don’t know what the heck this all means!!! But then I thought – well, of course, every image I see, every sentence that is uttered by a reporter or politician or bystander, every word chosen and every tone of voice fuels meaning.

This Energy Boost isn’t about Boston. It’s about the stories we choose, and the energy those stories carry.

Spoke with my mom on Friday. Mom is 88, lives in Germany, sharp and fit as a fiddle. They’re reporting about Boston non-stop here, she said. I am probably better informed than you are. Pause, and then she switched to her story. You know, all of my friends say this: Life was just a lot simpler back when we were younger. It’s not so nice anymore. And we’re seeing it again – it’s always Muslims who’re behind these attacks.

I said little. I know her stories now. The life-was-better-back-when-story. The-Muslims-are-taking-over story. They carry a bit of energy in her life. Boston re-charged the batteries.

I remember the weeks right after 9/11. I lived on the border of the West Village and Soho, minutes from where the twin towers went down. I watched the second tower tumble as I stood at the corner of 6th Avenue and Carmine.

Months and years after the event, folks would still ask me – So, what was it like? I ended up telling the story of standing on West Side Highway with my friend Jaime Manrique, cheering on the firefighters and volunteers that were charging down to Ground Zero. The story of walking past the impromptu picture memorials for the dead that were springing up everywhere. The story of the stench that was wafting from Ground Zero toward my neighborhood, so potent that my windows stayed shut for months. The story of how in those weeks I realized how much I loved my life in the US, and how I had taken it for granted.

Stories. My stories.

I would get quite emotional, telling those stories. I get emotional just now, sitting in an airplane, jotting down the words. These stories still carry energy. And here’s the important part for me: For every story I told, they were many others I didn’t tell. These were simply the stories I chose.

On Wednesday I chatted with a media publicist for my new book. Marjorie’s looking to pitch me for TV appearances. So what advice would you give a leader who has to respond to the Boston events? She asks. I make up an answer on the spot: Be calm. Affirm the good in people. Project strength and not fear. Yes, that’s story. I like it, she replies. Story, more story.

Stories are not facts. Stories fuel how I behave, how I witness and interpret the world. Stories can serve me or get in the way. And they carry a whole lot of energy.

This week, notice the stories you choose as the Boston narrative continues. Notice the stories you choose about your colleagues at work. Notice the energy that these stories hold. And if you want to be really daring – contemplate the stories that didn’t enter your mind.