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The longer I live, the more people I meet, the more I understand that everyone has a backstory.

Of course this is an obvious truism. If people are breathing they had to have been born and lived life somewhere. But that’s not the point.

“Backstory” is a literary device or theatrical word. It refers to the history of characters, or in our instance people, that informs and maybe forms the present personality, emotional make-up, and perhaps circumstances or potential of the character or person of present interest.

Everyone has a story—who he or she is. A backstory is the story behind the story.

So what I’ve learned is that when I meet people, however they seem to me, there’s more to them. Somehow, someway the persons I am meeting are rooted in their own backstory. They didn’t awaken one day fully formed. They—he or she—didn’t become a jerk or a mean girl overnight. Nor did overnight they become a great person you want to get to know better. So while I’m no psychologist, I’ve learned from experience (at least to try) not to judge too quickly.

Of course a person’s backstory however wonderful, not so good, or horrible does not provide a free pass to act self-indulgently. I don’t mean we should overlook questionable behavior or attitudes as soon as we learn people’s backstory. No, I mean that we’re better off not to judge until we learn more about the person’s backstory because such knowledge invariably creates understanding and often with it compassion, or at least tolerance.

One of the things I learned in years of leadership is to always check the facts when I was confronted with an issue. Why? Because “there’s always more to the story.” People filter, put their best foot forward, obfuscate, and lie. People who do their best to tell the truth are still but finite persons who may have forgotten or missed some key detail in the story. Check the facts.

Same is true for people. Engage their present story and in time and as appropriate learn their backstory. Learning their backstory tells you a lot, a whole lot, about them, helps perspective, and maybe suggests how you should interact with them. Same, by the way, can be said about a people group like, say, Palestinians.

Learning the backstory is time well spent.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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