At our Toastmasters meeting yesterday, as chair my selected theme was ‘A Fork in the Road’.
Certainly the expression has a highly conceptual value, both literally, and widely as figurative, symbolic representation.
The primary reason I picked this as theme had to do with recognizing that a portion of the meeting would be devoted to an annual rite of a Toastmasters club,electing a new (?!) Executive team. (Club years run from July 1 to the following June 30.) The use of such an image, I felt, would help to draw attention of members to consider involvement, but via a slightly off-beat message in order to soften the suasion. Frankly, like with many other high turnover clubs (due to logistics), such invitations do come with flypaper, as the composition of the club executive tends to comprise the more dedicated members, used to doing double duty.
As someone of a certain age able to remember the heyday of The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, there is a special comedic tie-in to ‘a fork in the road’. One of the running characters portrayed by Johnny on occasion was Art Fern, host of ‘Tea Time Movie’. In that stereotypic guise, he would hawk products to viewers during commercial breaks. Almost invariably, a visual direction for getting hold of one of these gems would be displayed on a street map prop, featuring the picture of a giant fork on one of the roads. This was always a strong laugh generator, enhanced by its familiar build-up.
Clearly, the symbolic take on the ‘fork in the road’ has many serious variations and potential directions in our lives.
A series of articles in the current edition of Psychology Today, of which the first is referred to here, also connect with this theme, under the composite heading of “Rewriting Your Life”.
An experience of the author’s daughter relates to ‘narrative identity theory’, its premise being “We are the stories we tell – and we are compelled to create stories to understand ourselves”. The idea of our own ‘narrative line’ helps us to “explain, order, and extract meaning from the chaos in our lives”. Stories we tell ourselves aren’t ‘fact checked’; as long as they ‘feel authentic to our personal experience’, such memories “define how we feel about ourselves and shape the identity we create throughout our lives”.
By editing our own stories, we can ‘defuse’ negative experiences which can cue destructive behaviour. This can also help us deal with broader social experiences, replete in modern life. By extension, group narratives – for example, applicable to minority groups – can be improved by exposure to such editing techniques. As a social researcher put it, “It’s just a question of properly framing the ‘story prompt’ in a social context to change group thinking”.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the effectiveness of such an approach lies with those harboring long internalized negative issues, possibly extending from adolescence. How have those affected responded to these accumulated memories? “If our stories tell us we are resilient, we will be. If they tell us we’re not up to the fight, we likely won’t be”.
Thus, we can understand the value of looking at things from a distance, and reframing, or ‘rewriting’ our own stories. We can look ahead, for opportunities, rather than just find wayward happenings or ends of the road. Meanwhile, then or along the way, we can always act “to embody a different story”.
Isn’t that what we face when encountering ‘a fork in the road’ in our lives? We decide on a path on which to proceed; our decision will be influenced by the backdrop of ‘our stories’, in the context of the alternatives and the hopes or expectations they encompass. We may or may not take the best objective path. Given that the decision is subjective, we will likely inculcate its effects, in turn helping when we inevitably encounter the next ‘fork’ in our road.