What Does That Make Me?

Yesterday I went to buy something at a shop in town. The shop assistant was on her own, and she had run out of change. Although we had chatted for a few minutes before I paid, we did not know each other. And yet she placed a 50-euro note in my hand and said, “Could you please change this for me in the electrical shop next door?” I asked myself whether the woman was irresponsible, careless and naïve for sending a man whom she had never met before out of her shop with 50 euros from her till, or whether she was a good judge of character and trusting, or whether she was warm-hearted and unconventional. I could have left the shop with the money and never returned. Instead, I gave the shop assistant my wallet and said, “Hold onto this until I return.” My wallet contained 200 euros, my identity card, my driving licence and my credit card.

What does that make me? One hundred different people reading this study will think that it proves that I am one hundred different people with one hundred or more different characteristics, and yet their judgments have nothing whatsoever to do with me.

The story “What Does That Make Me?” encourages listeners to think about the non-absolute nature of the characteristics an individual is assumed to have. It can also be used to illustrate the extent to which purported characteristics depend on how the surrounding context is interpreted. It is impossible to draw any conclusions about a person’s real nature from his or her behaviour, even if this behaviour is repeated, firstly because this would preclude the possibility of the person acting differently on a regular basis (otherwise he or she would have different characteristics, i.e. be a completely different person, as soon as his or her behaviour changed), and secondly because the characteristics which are ascribed – frugality or stinginess, a scheming mind or an enterprising spirit, heroism or stupidity, stubbornness or strong-mindedness – depend on the observer’s own values and criteria.

(From: Stefan Hammel: Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling. Sories and Metaphors in Psychotherapy, Child and Family Therapy, Medical Treatment, Coaching and Supervision, Routledge 2019)

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