My big brother, Howard, has always been one of my teachers and role models. He taught me how to tie my shoes and to tie a necktie. Years later, he went into real estate sales. Then I went into real estate sales. He went into the mortgage business. I went into the mortgage business. The list goes on and on. He was and is a great big brother.
He also taught me that there is a great distinction between the events that occur in our life and our experience of them. For instance, my stories come from my personal experiences. Are they actually what happened? Yes and no. What they are is what I actually experienced. There is a huge difference between the events that occurred and what I experienced. Both are valid. Both are true….but not necessarily the same.
I will never forget when this truth about experience vs. what happened first hit home for me. It was back in the early 80’s and I was very involved with an organization called Quantum Management Systems. The group did several things including a weekend seminar. The seminar was the kind of transformational experience that was very popular at the time, much like EST, Life Spring, etc.
Sometime around 1982 my brother took that weekend seminar. As a repeat attendee, I could attend as a guest without paying and sit in the back of the room and I did. At one point, my brother got up to speak and he talked about his childhood, our mother and what it was like for him to grow up in our house. It was a very compelling story and everyone, including me, felt very sorry for him and the challenges he faced growing up. However, as I listened to him, there were two things that I kept forgetting. One is that I was listening to my own brother and two was that we grew up in the same home!
If you had heard both of us describing our childhoods, you would not even know that we were related. Why is that? We were both raised in the same house at the same time, with the same events and the same parents. But we experienced all of it very differently. Who was right? Both of us.
What caused this disparity in experience? Was it our age difference? That he was the older sibling? Did I get more attention because I was a sick kid? Whatever the reason, what is clear is that our history is based on our experiences and not the events themselves.
This may be one of the most important lessons that I have learned from my brother. Our feelings about what happens define our experience and feelings are always valid. They are, after all, how we feel. We cannot change our history or change the events that have already taken place. What we can change is our experience. How we feel is within or control.
That is exactly what my brother has done. He has chosen to have a different experience of his childhood. As he puts it “The events are still the same but I was allowed to perceive those events and, ultimately, my experience differently. It was a simple matter of changing my mind.” It may be more difficult than he makes it sound. After all, we often have a lot invested in stories about our history.
Knowing and being able to make this distinction between events and experiences helps me. It helps me to understand others and better understand myself.
I know that I am right about this. After all, that is my experience.
Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.