A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis

Episode 2: Capital “T” Truths and Lowercase “t” Truths

January 01, 2023 Narrative Therapy Initiative Episode 2
Episode 2: Capital “T” Truths and Lowercase “t” Truths
A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis
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A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis
Episode 2: Capital “T” Truths and Lowercase “t” Truths
Jan 01, 2023 Episode 2
Narrative Therapy Initiative

How do we know what is true about ourselves and our lives? Who decides what is true, for us and for others? How can we learn to create our own preferred truths? In this episode, Steve talks with Suzanne Gazzolo, a narrative therapist and Narrative Therapy Initiative faculty member living and working in Chicago. She and Steve explore the chapter of his book where he questions what is true, and how important it is to uncover the sneakiness of culturally powerful truths. They discuss the difference between facts and truths, and the urgency of helping people to make their own meanings — or preferred truths — about events and relationships in their lives. 

Show Notes Transcript

How do we know what is true about ourselves and our lives? Who decides what is true, for us and for others? How can we learn to create our own preferred truths? In this episode, Steve talks with Suzanne Gazzolo, a narrative therapist and Narrative Therapy Initiative faculty member living and working in Chicago. She and Steve explore the chapter of his book where he questions what is true, and how important it is to uncover the sneakiness of culturally powerful truths. They discuss the difference between facts and truths, and the urgency of helping people to make their own meanings — or preferred truths — about events and relationships in their lives. 

Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen) (00:13):

From New Zealand to Mexico. Over there in Boston, here in San Diego. People told their stories living in this land, answering the call of a good man. 

Sarah Beth Hughes (00:39):

Welcome back to A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis. I'm Sarah Beth Hughes, a friend and a writing sidekick of Steve's. Steve was an amazing man, a family therapist, a teacher, a husband, a father, a dreamer of ideas for how to help people escape from stories that trapped them into believing truths that are not true. Even as Steve was actively dying, he was so passionate about how the narrative worldview saved his life as it helped him escape a powerful problem story that he believed for most of his life. He died knowing more meaningful and true stories about himself, that he mattered, that his life had meaning and purpose. This is Episode 2:  Truths, Capital "T" Truths, and Lowercase "t" Truths. Suzanne Gazzolo joins us today to explore the chapter of Steve's book where he questions the idea of what is true and how important it is to explore the sneakiness of assumed truths.


What are truths that sneak into our ways of understanding that can actually do a lot of harm? How can we be aware of truths in our own meaning making? Suzanne is a therapist living and working in Chicago and is on the narrative therapy initiative faculty. In this conversation, she calmly explores these complex questions with Steve in a way that helps him clarify his thoughts and connect them to his deepest hopes for meaning making and intimacy in his vision of a narrative revolution. Steve mentions someone named Norm a few times. Mr. Norm Should is a character Steve developed to represent normalizing judgment or the dominant cultural stories that tell us what we should do or be like in our lives. Michael White also gets mentioned in this conversation. He was one of the founders of these ideas that have been called narrative therapy, and his work and writing had a huge impact on Steve's development of his ideas, especially on this topic of deconstructing truth and power.

Stephen Gaddis (02:50):

Suzanne, I think of you as such a skillful narrative practitioner, so I'm really excited to have this privilege of being asked questions by you. I don't usually get to be in that position, so I'm pretty excited about this.

Sarah Beth Hughes (03:08):
How did you two meet though? I don't know that part of your, your origin story.

Stephen Gaddis (03:14):

How would you tell it, Suzanne?

Suzanne Gazzolo (03:16):

I would say there was an important person in both of our lives, Matt Mooney. I think the first time I met you, Steve, you were actually, you showed some of your work with a young person. I think I met you right after that.

Stephen Gaddis (03:35):
Was that, was, was that with a young boy, that work?

Suzanne Gazzolo (03:39): Yes. Yeah.

Stephen Gaddis (03:41):
Was that? I think that might have been about him sort of internalizing this kind of, um, alpha male world and then us talking about the possibility of his preference for a moral world.

Suzanne Gazzolo (04:00): Yes,

Stephen Gaddis (04:00): Exactly.

Suzanne Gazzolo (04:01):

Yeah, that's exactly that. That's exactly, um, now that the content of the conversation's coming back to me, what I, what I always remember about that conversation is how you related to him in really, and asked questions and very tentative ways that positioned him as the knower. And so it wasn't just the content about the alpha male world and that piece of it, but it got reflected also just in the real time ways of relating to each other, which is really meaningful.

Stephen Gaddis (04:44):
And do you think, what was moving to you about that was in any way, like, has any connection to the idea that we can't know objective truth.

Suzanne Gazzolo (05:00):

Yes. And that there's, I don't know how to describe this, but that you were embodying that idea in the tentativeness with which you asked questions and left things open for him to sort of understand for himself what he was knowing. You know, so I don't know if this is a good place to ask this, Steve. When I was reading this chapter, I was thinking about truth with a capital T and truth with a lowercase T. Is there a difference in your mind about how you, is that something that you think about? Is there a distinction for you?

Stephen Gaddis (05:44):

Yeah, I think. I love going back to learning that you were moved by the ways I was relating with him and asking him those questions. Because, you know, when I think about the difference between capital T Truths and lower "t" truths, I think of issues of power and politics, and particularly, um, who gets to, who gets to say what? Who gets to know things? Who gets to have knowledges or perspectives that matter? In a capital T truth world, I feel like there's this, it sets up competitions over who knows best, right? Like, who knows best what the real truth is? Those ways of relating are not ones that I particularly like or find interesting or meaningful or respectful, and I think can do real harm, you know, because just if we think about the conversation he and I were having, if I were thinking about relating to him in terms of, okay, I'm the knower of the truth of things because I'm older, because I have studied certain helping professions, you know, because of all these reasons I'm the, you know, superior knower of what's true and what's important and how to make sense out of things, then I would be neglecting or not attending to him as a person with agency, him as a person with his own perspectives that


Matter equally to mine. So when I remember about lowercase truths, I think instead of competing over who knows what's really true, I can choose to sort of play in the sandbox of his reality, his ways of making sense out of things, his imagination, his abilities to navigate the things he's experienced, even if it's been a shorter life than mine.

Suzanne Gazzolo (08:28):

One of the things that I really appreciate is how you distinguish between facts and truths. And I think you wrote about this in that  chapter, and I'm, I'm curious how that understanding, which seems like when you say it, of course that's a distinction, but how, how did you come to that?

Stephen Gaddis (08:53):

Well, I think because when I would first attempt to support this position that all we are is meaning, you know, that I believe all we are is meaning makers and that, you know, we're not, we're not, we can't know objective truths. So that means, where does that leave us, that we're meaning makers, and that's all we're ever doing with each other. That's all, um, that's ever taking place among people. That when I would speak about that position, I would get responses where people were upset.

Sarah Beth Hughes (09:35):
Can you say what that position is? Like what, how you were defining facts versus truth?

Stephen Gaddis (09:41):

Well, I'm getting to that because that's, this is what motivated me to have to figure that out. <laugh> So, people would get upset and oftentimes people would think, what I was saying was that, well, then nothing's real. There's nothing, there's no substance. You're saying there's no substance, there's nothing real in the world. And I didn't think that's what I was saying. So I had to figure out what, what was the story that people were coming from that was getting them to think that's what I was saying. So I was trying to, I had to figure out, and what I imagined was that people were thinking more what I was saying is that stories are not significant in the real effects they have. So what was missing was the understanding that stories construct realities. They have real effects and things that happen in life that we have to story, that we have to make sense out of, also are real. 


They took, they took place in time. I would never argue that we, the three of us, are not having this conversation right now. Right. That's, I would say that's a fact. You know, it's something that's observable. Facts are things that either happen or didn't happen. So this conversation is either happening or not happening. Facts occur. Like once a conversation occurs and we try to reflect on it or talk about it or whatever, we are immediately supported into the world of meaning making. So what it means that we're having this conversation can't be understood from an objective truth perspective. I don't know, Suzanne does that, where does that take you in my attempt to answer that question?

Suzanne Gazzolo (12:00):

<laugh> It's, well, it takes me to this question of, do you find yourself still getting caught up in truth stories? Like, you know, having spent so long thinking about this, practicing this with people, you know, working with people, like what are they, do they still have effects in your life?

Stephen Gaddis (12:26):

You know, it's funny cuz I think a year ago I would've said, yeah, I think a lot, you know, like that. But if you asked me today, I would say not not much. Right? Like, curious what, how I might go about making sense out of that or accounting for that. But, um, but it's pretty liberating. You know, like I, I used to be in a relationship with a story called The Bad Person Story. And it could use facts as evidence that I was a bad person all the time. Like up until, you know, a year ago it could easily sort of just say. I'd leave the, uh, window down and it would rain and I would come back and find out that I'd accidentally left the window down and inside the car was wet. And I would immediately get caught by this claim, this truth claim that, well there's the evidence that you're not smart enough or thoughtless or lazy or irresponsible. And I, and I would fall for it for some time before I could see it and reclaim my, my life from it. But that doesn't happen very much anymore.

Suzanne Gazzolo (13:53):

Hmm. It does have me so curious how you account for truth stories having loosened their grip, but it also has me curious about how you went about reclaiming your life, you know, when it would have a grip on you, the bad person story.

Stephen Gaddis (14:13):

I feel like I've been on this exponential kind of meteoric trajectory in community. I feel like I've been learning about and benefiting from being in intimate community, you know, for a while. And so that, as that's taken place, I think the power of those other stories have diminished greatly. My sense of my relationship with my primary stories about myself are so much more in the foreground than those old ones. And I think it's because of those community relationships and interpersonal relationships. Yes. Sarah,

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:04):
Can you break down what you mean by intimate community? Because I'm just like thinking about people who might be listening and might think, oh, okay, well, you know, he has that, but, but I don't.

Stephen Gaddis (15:18):

Yeah. Do you have thoughts like, cuz you're part of it, so do you have

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:24):

Well I just thought maybe you could describe what, what you mean, so it didn't get some other story developed that, oh, you've, you've got all these, um, friends and you're having all this, um, fun <laugh> like, kinda like a, like a Facebook version of, of community versus what I think you're talking about.

Stephen Gaddis (15:45):

Yeah. I think, well I think it takes me back to the narrative worldview and the way that when I talk about narrative therapy, I always try to emphasize the worldview part because it's, it's something that, it's a way of being or an ethic or, yeah, particularly a way of being, a way of relating that I try strive to have be influencing how I am in all domains of my life. Whether it's with my students, with my wife, my kids, my friends, my clients, whoever it might be. And so I think that working so hard over 30 years at what do these ideas mean and how do I put 'em into practice and how do I shape, how do they shape who I wanna be then has attracted people who share those same values, you know? So I've, I've reached out and, and become vulnerable at times.


Like I'm thinking about with you Sarah Beth, when we were in Vermont together and I'm shy and I was like, oh, but she looks so interesting <laugh>. And so I was vulnerable and tried to, you know, live my preferred self and you were responsive to it. And we just, from, from conversation to conversation and staying in touch and like just one phone call at a time, built this really, really close relationship, the same I have with Suzanne. And so for each person that I come into contact with, you know, I have this opportunity to develop this unbelievably meaningful relationship. It's one of the things I'm proudest of is that I'm congruent with what I say I stand or I try to be congruent with what I say I stand for. And that's generated these close relationships that I've subsequently started to invite to know each other, know each other through.


For example, we have what we call Sunday morning church and we meet, I think it's 12 of us or something like that on Sunday mornings from all over the country and Canada. And just having those, it never occurred to me to do community. I was raised to just think about myself. I was just raised, I was raised to just think individually. I didn't know what community meant. It really got born out of just a hunger, a desire and a longing for intimate relationships. And I think narrative ways of relating, I spent a lot of time thinking about how narrative ways of relating can, can support the kind of intimate relationships that I desire.

Suzanne Gazzolo (19:05):
Can you say a little bit more about narrative ways of relating, how the worldview makes relating?

Stephen Gaddis (19:13):

Yeah. I think there's some key things that we could call them values or like, one thing I value a lot is, you know, honesty, openness, transparency, accountability. And this, I guess maybe among those especially accountability. I feel like, theoretically from a narrative perspective, if we believe that we make meaning through stories and we're in a relationship with somebody else, we can't know how they're gonna make meaning out of anything that we do or say in advance. And so we can have all these unintended effects and these relationships because, you know, we may have our in certain intentions, but the way that they're making sense out of what we're doing, they could experience as very hurtful, very painful. And then it seems like at that point we have a choice. We can, we can defend our intentions or care about the unintended effects that we've created.


I believe that intimacy can come when people can be accountable for the unintended effects that they create. I think it's very hard for relationships to become intimate without that. So that's one of the qualities or values, and I think the hallmark of narrative is being curious and being curious in a way that is recognizing the other person as being intentional in life, being purposeful, having curiosity and understanding the person that we're with has hopes and dreams and things like that. And that we can make it our business to be curious with them in ways that help them further thicken the story, those stories for themselves. I can't, I can't imagine doing anything more satisfying than spending time doing that with someone. Cuz I know how meaningful it is, you know, when someone was willing to do that for me too.

Suzanne Gazzolo (21:48):
Do you have a story about that?

Stephen Gaddis (21:51):

I think it's really, it's more the absence of those experiences that make it so and so my imaginings of what it might be like to experience that and then to like be able to offer that to clients over and over and over again. Be able to offer to clients, I'm just gonna be curious about how you make sense out of things. I'm only gonna work to help you develop, you become more of the author of your own life and this and story more and more about what matters to you and what you value. And because that's what narrative practice is, right? So, so to do that for people on a day-to-day basis and to experience, to witness what that does for people, what that makes possible is deeply satisfying in itself. But in terms of me being on the receiving end of that, I really can only think of a handful of stories where I, I was explicitly on the receiving end of that, but I don't have a great memory. So <laugh>, it could have happened a lot more and I just haven't recorded it.

Suzanne Gazzolo (23:12):

I'm feeling like this question is too big, so maybe I need some help, you know, sort of making it a smaller question, but I'm thinking about like, our conversation is about sort of this idea of truth and truth claims and then, or in this sort of beautiful reflection on how, how to relate in narrative ways, what that looks like in terms of honesty and openness, transparency, accountability, caring about unintended effects, being curious about people's intentions, purposes, cares. I'm just wondering what the link in a big way, and I don't know if there's a smaller question

Stephen Gaddis (23:56):

I'll tell you where it takes me to, like, I think for example, my parents internalized this belief that, as I did, as I think most of us did, very, very, at a very, very young age about what's most important and what's, what's possible and most important to be doing in life is to be discovering what's really true. Right? And so that's a very different thing to privilege than how we're relating to each other or those narrative ways of being that we identified. So what I experienced was, I was expected in my relationships with my parents to support their truths, whatever truths that they believe they have. And so what that sponsored was a relationship where I was just expected to be submissive and defer to everything that they, so I wasn't allowed to be a person, I was just, I was more considered an object who was supposed to agree with their reality, with their capital T truth world.


And I think that happens at every level of society, you know, whether it's in families between parents and kids or teachers and children, or therapists and clients, or governments or whatever. But that's why we have so much conflict because one group of people thinks they have <laugh> the capital T truth and everybody else is supposed to submit to that, become submissive. But that other group isn't willing to be submissive, and they believe they have the capital T truth. So that's what I appreciate so much about what Michael White offered wasn't so much just a critique, which I think has been well developed, but also what can we do instead? And what we can do instead is what we talked about, be curious with each one another, help each other develop our preferred stories about ourselves, what we value, everything. I mean imagine if that's all we were ever doing with each other, all the time, was just hanging around like saying, Hey, can I spend some time asking you some questions about your day and the events that took place in the day and what they meant to you and how, whether or not they supported what you hold most precious for yourself and

Suzanne Gazzolo (27:06):
Mm-hmm. it's great to imagine that <laugh>, that's

Stephen Gaddis (27:11):
<laugh> that's the narrative revolution, baby.

Suzanne Gazzolo (27:14):

Yeah. That's the narrative revolution. Tell me if you wanna go back to this, but, but it takes me back to that question about how you reclaimed your life from the bad person story where you could be in touch with some of these other ways of thinking about yourself and not be so caught up in the truth. 

Stephen Gaddis (27:39):

I mean, a few of you in in our little community keep coming back to that question. And I, I don't know that I have a satisfying answer to that yet. The best I can do is like, I'm stubborn. Right? I think another piece of it is, I, it is just painful, painful to experience a relationship with that story. It hurts me. So then that motivates me to want to do something about it. Right? To lessen that pain somehow. And I think the narrative worldview just like, I went through most of my life hoping it wasn't true, but not knowing.

Suzanne Gazzolo (28:31): Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Stephen Gaddis (28:32):

When I met the narrative worldview and everything that's happened subsequently, I feel like it wasn't foolish for me to hold onto that hope. And I, I wonder how many people lose, lose that hope along the way.

Suzanne Gazzolo (28:50):


Sarah Beth Hughes (28:51):
I was thinking as you were saying that Steve, like I have my own version of the bad person story. Mine I call the not good enough story.

Stephen Gaddis (29:01): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (29:02):

And for me, yeah. The narrative worldview is helped me build my hope that that is also not true. And just made me think of like one time, you know, a year ago or something, I came to you cuz I was really caught by that story. I was really upset by something and you know, just, you told me you didn't want to stand with that story and you would help me in any way to, to not be caught by that story and that I could call you anytime or reach out anytime. And just you saying that and me knowing that like, that you, that I wasn't alone with my hope that that wasn't true.

Stephen Gaddis (29:44): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (29:46):

Ah, sorry. I've been really teary today so I feel like I'm gonna cry, but just, I don't have to call you every time. I mean I do sometimes <laugh>, but it often come, that conversation comes back to me and I remember, okay, Steve doesn't stand with his story.

Stephen Gaddis (30:01): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (30:02):
What would he ask me about? What would he be interested in? Yeah. And that really is important to me. It really shifts me out of where I am. So that's the community part that's also important to me.

Stephen Gaddis (30:16): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (30:17):

Is sometimes, right, that I have you inside me, in my internal community and I have Michael and I have like lots of people that help me cuz I can't do it, I can't hold onto that hope by myself cuz that those truth stories are pretty powerful.

Stephen Gaddis (30:34):
Yes. Well, thank you for telling that story because yeah it is that, I mean the ultimate hope, if we really go with this personifying problems, the ultimate hope for problem stories are to make us feel like we're alone and, and crazy and that the story's true and all that kind of stuff. It's so important. It's still true. I will always be there to stand with you against that story. It's so supported by the narrative worldview in my mind. You know, harm is constructed in relationships and healing is constructed in relationships. Harm is constructed in relationships through meaning making by, by being characterized as not good enough. Right. Over and over and over and over and over again. And so healing takes place in relationships where through stories too, where we get to hear that's not true. This person understands or makes sense out of us in this way that we're special or that we're, you know, we're loved or that we're adored or whatever it might be.


And so to me, one of the key shifts between truth world with the capital T and the narrative worldview is fantasy is that when people understand that we're meaning makers, they'll take more responsibility for how they participate in the meaning maker. They'll recognize that, wait, it's not neutral for me to say this about Sarah Beth right now. What is the meaning that I'm privileging here? Like, do I really wanna privilege this notion that she's not good enough? Right? Or do I want to, or do I want to story it differently, story what I'm experiencing or relate? That's a real dream that, because right now I don't feel like hardly anybody takes responsibility for how they participate in their meaning making.

Suzanne Gazzolo (33:02):
I was just gonna ask what it was like to know, to hear Sarah Beth

Stephen Gaddis (33:08): Mm-hmm.

Suzanne Gazzolo (33:09):
<affirmative> speak to the difference that it makes to have you stand against that story?

Stephen Gaddis (33:16):

Well, since one of my hopes in life is to trust that we're close. I mean, I know, I know I feel close from my side, but it helps me trust it from the other side. And I think it continues to affirm what my preferred relationship is with myself now. It's no longer I'm a bad person, but it affirms my preference to be a person who strives to never miss an opportunity to help somebody else know they matter. But it's, it's more than that. It's, you know, it's particular like, know that they matter in particular ways that don't support the not good enough story, in this case or whatever it might be for the person. So it's pretty cool. Right.

Suzanne Gazzolo (34:15):

<laugh>, I will always be left with like these different directions. So I have one direction around, you know, like how you came to, um, this purpose of being a person who strives to never miss an opportunity to let people know they matter. And then the other idea sort of focused place is just wondering how your ideas about Norm fit into what we've been talking about.

Stephen Gaddis (34:48):

Oh yeah. What that helps me remember is that both the idea of objective T truth and Norm, right? My thinking was helped by the idea of externalizing, right? So, so if we take it seriously that we're in relationships with stories and I was thinking about, okay, what's, what's the story we're in relationship when it comes to with objective truths, you know, trying to externalize that story. You know, when I present and introduce this worldview, I start pretty early on with saying, I think one of the greatest taken for granted assumptions in Western society is that it's possible and important to pursue objective truths. You know, that's a pretty big <laugh>. That's a pretty big, um, mind fuck for a lot of people because, you know, it's like, you know, I remember, I think I was conscious even as a little boy, like thinking, who am I really? Am I really a good, a good person or bad? Like, who am I really? And thinking there must be an answer that had a true, you know, that was based in objective reality never occurred to me that, that question, who am I really, was a real question? Like who do I want to become? Like who, who do I wanna be? So it's the difference between discovering who I am and constructing who I am.

Suzanne Gazzolo (36:24):
So who I am is truth with the capital T. And who am I becoming is

Stephen Gaddis (36:30):
Who do I want to become?

Suzanne Gazzolo (36:33): Who do I want?

Stephen Gaddis (36:35):

They're very, they take us in very different directions, right? Those two questions and norms. So again, I was trying to figure out, okay, well if, you know, in Foucault kind of introduced me to this truth regime history, right? Like, he studied the history of truths and he identified science as a modern day truth regime truth, the, the winners and truth games contemporarily. You know, if you wanted to, if you wanted to have power, all you had to do was, it helped to be in a position of scientific superiority somehow, right? Like, uh, you had a certain knowledge, a certain, you know, you knew certain things or you studied certain things that were in the sciences and gave you privilege. Since I was critiquing everything from this post-structural perspective and critiquing everything from this idea that every, you can't know an objective truth, I was trying to figure out what's the story that science uses to argue that it's objective.


You know, that was, I remember that being a fun and creative kind of time where I was like asking my father-in-law <laugh>, who's a hard core scientist, what is the, what is the deal here? Like how does science get away with claiming it generates less of biased truth? And I was helped by Michael White and who taught, you know, and Michel Foucault who talked about normalizing judgments as forms of modern power. So then when I started to personify, I thought then externalizing and personifying, sorry, I know I'm kind of all over the place, but when I reflected on that story, what is the story that science uses to claim? It has developed particular research methods that take the human bias out of it. And then when I thought, well, okay, what's the story behind that that makes the argument that it can, those research methods actually do take the human bias out of it?

That's where it occurred to me that it was the use of math, mathematics, and the idea that because we incorporate mathematic analysis to the data that we see, the facts that we find, that we've gotten rid of the human bias. Okay, well how does that work? How does putting math into it take the human bias out of? And then I thought about all the statistics classes I took and all the research methods classes I took, and I thought about all the ways that statistical analysis, I was told, I was just told to believe that statistical analysis just somehow magically took the human bias out of it. So then I went to try to look at the history of the development of statistical analyses and that's where I learned about the development of the normal curve. And so we're back to this whole thing of, okay, we have a fact.


If we study the measurement, if we study men's heights and we measure men's heights, it will show a normal curve, right? If we just measure all men's heights and we plot it on a graph, it'll turn out to be a normal curve. That's a fact. 

Sarah Beth Hughes (40:30):
Like a bell curve. 

Stephen Gaddis (40:31):
Bell curve, yeah. Well that's a fact. What does it mean? Well, that's for human interpretation, but the story is, No, no, no, we're not interpreting this normal curve, the normal curve is a reflection of nature's intention. So that's the trick that shifted the recognition that we're making interpretations to, no, this is just nature's objective. Right? Which then was used and exploited by Nazis for superior race ideas.

Suzanne Gazzolo (41:09):
Yeah. So when you think about men's heights plotted, what gets understood as a reflection of nature's intentions, what's the effect for men's height?

Stephen Gaddis (41:22):

The effects are that it obscures the ways that, it obscures what's valued, how what's valued gets storied. Or it constructs what gets valued. So if we think nature's ideal is a man who's five foot ten, then the story is what's desirable is a five foot ten man, then that has all kinds of effects. If instead we had the story of, this is just a frequency, this is just, this has nothing to do with what we value, this just has to do with the amount of men that if you had a population of men would happen to be this height. The effects can include women, what women desire towards men, can affect how men see themselves. It can affect, the story is <laugh> like the, the guy who said that, no, this is nature's intentions. And people pushed back and said, no, no, no, but what about like intelligence? What about people who score better on academic tests or something on a normal curb? And he said, well, that's nature's, what nature intends for the future, right? So that's the future ideal.

Suzanne Gazzolo (42:40): Mm-hmm.

Stephen Gaddis (42:41):
So there's all these workarounds, but it's still within stories and stories and stories. It's not in terms of objectivity.

Suzanne Gazzolo (42:50):
When you look at your own stories through this lens, you know, particularly as you were faced with the bad person story,

Stephen Gaddis (43:00):
Right? Cuz I have moments of like, I'm caught by, I'm caught by Norm right now, I'm caught by discourses. But I'll try to stand up against those and say, you know, I feel like I have moments of thinking, you know, that I'm really smart and that feels good. It feels good to, to be able to witness that in myself.

Sarah Beth Hughes (43:27):
You personified this character Norm.

Stephen Gaddis (43:29): Right? Yeah. 

Sarah Beth Hughes (43:31): 
Last name Should, Norm Should.

Stephen Gaddis (43:32):
Should. Yeah. <laugh>.

Sarah Beth Hughes (43:34):
Yeah. Yeah. And how does that sort of help? Like to me it helps make it visible.

Stephen Gaddis (43:40): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (43:41):
Is that your intention with talking about Norm as a?

Stephen Gaddis (43:44):

Yeah. Like for example, Norm sets the criteria for what should and shouldn't be done. And so I was experiencing it just there, you know, Norm was saying you shouldn't say that you experience yourself as smart at times and was wanting to silence me and get me to think I shouldn't feel, I shouldn't have that experience like that. I should feel embarrassed or I should feel ashamed. And I guess that's what this whole narrative worldview, like when I was talking about responsibility, meaning making responsibility in this narrative world we want to create, I would trust that the two of you would then recognize your responsibility for how you respond to that, to me sharing that, or me saying that. You know, that if that, if that's my story about the, if that's my story about myself in this moment, that you would be like, oh, here's a chance to be curious about that, or whatever it might be.

Sarah Beth Hughes (44:57):
And what would be a good question to ask? What kind of question would you ask yourself?

Stephen Gaddis (45:03):
Maybe what are you caring about by taking that risk and sharing that? Or why do you, why does being smart matter to you?

Suzanne Gazzolo (45:12):
What are, what are you caring about by taking that risk?

Stephen Gaddis (45:16):

I don't know. I guess that in order for something to be true with a lowercase T truth, it needs to be affirmed by other people. So I'm hoping that my friends will support that story in some way so that, so that I don't feel alone in it, so that I don't feel

Suzanne Gazzolo (45:40):

What, when you said the words, I'm really smart, what stood out to me was that I didn't have a sense of comparison or relative to who or what. That it was, you know, I was experiencing that statement and what matters to you not as a, you know, like what the curve would have us do, which is compare ourselves to others. And I, I wonder if that's the, was I getting that?

Stephen Gaddis (46:13):

That distinction is super helpful. I have no desire to spend one second thinking about whether I'm smarter or less smart than anyone else. Like that's, no, that's not what it's about. It's about, it's about witnessing my own capacity, right? Like my own, whatever that is. Cuz I feel like the bad person story has had a lot of success in stealing what I would've otherwise been able to do in terms of think creatively or think, explore things in more depth. And I think that's one reason I hesitate cuz I know the word smart can connote that competitive comparison and that's not what, not what it's about at all for me.

Suzanne Gazzolo (47:06):
Steve, say a little more about what being smart means to you. Why that's significant?

Stephen Gaddis (47:12):

Yeah. I guess it's cuz of maybe what I was just saying, like, it gives me permission to go forward if I'm, if I'm not stupid <laugh>, you know, then I have capacity or I have the ability to do things that this story that I'm stupid would interfere with, you know, would hold me back. I never thought about that before.

Suzanne Gazzolo (47:39):
Hmm. So as you think about having permission to move forward?

Stephen Gaddis (47:44):
Yeah. And just like trusting in my own thinking, trusting in my, enjoying my being playful in my thinking. I think it's, and I think it's also recognizing there's something, I don't know, there is something, I would love help unpacking this.  know Sarah Beth and I had a conversation about this once, where it ended up in how much I'm confident that I'm intelligent in my relational intelligence. Whereas this other kind of intelligence, whatever that is, I feel less confident in. But there is something and I, maybe it is competitiveness, maybe it's, you know, because if I think about when I played sports, I liked winning <laugh>, you know, like I like and I was good at winning. There probably is something about, I don't know if I like this or not, or I want this or not, the possibility of, I hate arrogance. So I want to be smart enough to not get tricked by arrogant people into thinking that I'm not as smart as them. <laugh>

Sarah Beth Hughes (48:58):

It made me think about how, when we've been talking about your writing and the tone and how the tone shifts sometimes when it feels like you're trying to be smart as opposed to just knowing that you're smart and speaking from like that enjoyment of playing with your ideas and that relational piece too, of connecting with the person, with your ideas.

Stephen Gaddis (49:23):
That's exactly right. It's exactly right.

Suzanne Gazzolo (49:27):
When you said playful, I just saw the bell curve with Norm's, eyes, you know? Yeah. Just thinking, you know, that such a reflection of that playful, smart thinking.

Stephen Gaddis (49:38):

And I think it all comes back to still in the service of intimacy, right? Like it's all like, cuz even when I'm teaching and I'm  being provocative, and I'm being silly. It's not so I can appear superior ever. Right? Like, it's always so that we can connect. I loved this conversation.

Sarah Beth Hughes (50:044):
Me too. 

Suzanne Gazzolo (50:05):
I loved it too. It's so nice to be with both of you. Yeah.

Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen) (50:19):
From New Zealand to Mexico. Over there in Boston, here in San Diego. People told their stories living in this land, answering the call of a good man. First met Stephen eight years ago, came to talk with our narrative group in San Francisco. In the first five minutes, he shed a tear. He said, it means so much to me that you are all here. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Brought us all together, elders mixing with the new. The up and comers front and center, wouldn't have happened without you. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Through Beijing to Sydney, from Perth to Bombay, through Cape Town to Burlington, from Chicago to L.A. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Thanks Stephen.