Zia Hassan

Stories About Skeletons


I’ve seen many relatives and friends of mine post this picture on Facebook or other social media sites. I suppose the point of it is that despite our differences, underneath our skin, everyone has the same skeleton. And everyone will eventually become that skeleton when they die. I suppose the message is that we should all love each other as equals.

But I feel that this image misses something. And that is, we become skeletons when we die, but when we’re alive, we’re covered in skin. And it’s more important to consider who we are and what our identity is when we’re alive than when we’re dead.

In some ways, this skeleton image is just another way of shutting down the conversation. No one, even if they are bigoted or racist or even just misguided, would deny that everyone has a skeleton. It’s the stories those people tell themselves about the skin that covers the skeleton when they are alive that affects society and progress.

As humans, we’re narrative driven. Not only do we enjoy stories, but we enjoy creating stories around the people in our lives, even if those stories are highly fictional. I’m a prime example: I once had a boss who I refer to as evil. I still believe my former boss is evil, that she gets off on other people’s sadness and misery while clawing her way to the top. I don’t know her very well, so this is just a story I tell myself based on my interactions with her, and other people’s stories based on their interactions with her.

But the revealing thing about this story is that vulnerability, in all humans, can correct a lot of fictional stories. In my particular case above, I made a lot of judgments in order to sort of fill in the gaps that were missing from my narrative of this person. Why would be so horrible to the people around her? There has to be a reason, and so I invented one and adhered to it with all my might. She’s evil, and wants to see everyone suffer.

It’s probably not true. But I don’t have the evidence yet to prove otherwise. And so this belief affects every my relationship with every other person with authority that comes into my life, my level of trust with them, and how I engage with them.

If she had just been vulnerable, and let down her shield… perhaps I would have seen her as a human with flaws, rather than a villain. Perhaps I would’ve been more empathetic towards her if I had known more about her favorite color, or what her fears are. Perhaps our working relationship could have been better if we had bared our souls, even in the smallest way.

But there I go with the stories again.