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Apr 24

Day 24: If it all blows up and goes to hell…Storytime

April is my month of awful. Every day I write about a stupid thing I have done, a lousy habit or pattern in my life, or some other area where I fail. To help with my focus I have wandered through the ten commandments and the seven deadly sins.I added a few other on off incidents in my life. What do I have left?

  • Envy
  • You shall not murder
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • Coveting (Protestants: One Commandment/Two Commandments)

This whole exercise in public self-reflection came about because last summer a former co-worker of mine sent me a litany of my failings. Honestly, I was kind of scared, but also miffed that his accusations did not align with my actual failings. He contacted me again earlier this year to tell me I was racist against Scotts. His priorities revolved around self-exoneration, and not sincerely capturing my worst traits. I was sad to be his scape-goat, but sadder that I was not understood.

I have tried to use these stories to set the record straight about how awful I am.  We are all a little hapless from time to time, and I am no exception. I can be cruel and unreasonable. I can be ungenerous and greedy for the spotlight. There is one truth about me that was left out: I am a storyteller, and that carries a moral peril.

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My observation about myself is not that I am a gossip, but that I consider the creation, the gathering, and the distribution of stories to be my life’s purpose. Like the old Jimmy Buffet song, Stories We Can Tell, I feel that we are doing all of this so that we get the best stories and share the best stories.  If we look at my discretionary spending over my life, it is focused on experience rather that capital expenses.  Since I was a wee tyke, every career desire was focused on how I could tell stories. I earned a history degree because history is the story of how we all ended up here. Even my work in technology didn’t catch until I shifted my emphasis to taking business stories and translating them into technology solutions.

The sad part of any story–an anecdote, a business plan, a press release, an essay on Mozart, a vacation schedule–is that it reduces reality to the flattest possible terms. Three dimensional spacetime because a of few hundred words on a computer screen. Intense, multi-faceted human interaction becomes a dozen sentences told over a beer.  This is the shorthand that crafts a tellable and understandable story.

What is lost in all this? People become stock characters. Human lives are reduced to individual actions or incidents. Souls are lost. Human accomplishments are leveled, and depths are filled in. Real folks in my story become paper and cardboard cutouts. I make the elements fit the story I tell. I reduce humans to mere words.

I have a well-worn giant leather satchel full of praise words. When I talk about people I can lift them up, and we will both be able to celebrate the divine spark together. I have a less actively used bag of tricks for when I want to tear someone down. They blunt, plain, and devastating. I do not go to them often.

I try as much as possible not to share the awful words publicly for the sake of destroying another. In most cases when I encounter someone that is a threat to me or my own, I take them aside and tell them they are awful directly.

But while I also use stories to praise, I feel I have a very rare obligation to use stories to warn.

There are exceptions of course, which are not as morally clear. Sometimes I just hear a good story and need to share it. Not because I am cool and trying to make someone look bad. Not because I am celebrating the awfulness of another. Just because…holy moly…a human did something that was so interesting, so fascinating, that I can’t let this story die.

Even when the stories were about my own awful actions…I want to share them.

Some of the best things I have done involve stories. I have shared the stories of those people and events I promote.  I have looked into the eyes of a younger person in pain and shared a story that helped them be stronger in their pain. I have helped my children understand their own strengths through stories about themselves.

But every story has an agenda. Every story tells only a slice of the truth. Many stories I have shared have been other people’s struggles, and I have dehumanized them in using them for my own purposes at the moment. To me…this is the worst sin I commit.

This month has been liberating, freeing, creatively rewarding, and emotionally a roller coaster.  But maybe that’s a bigger truth revealing itself. The worst of who you are is so closely tied to the best of who you are. This is not a cause of doubt or recrimination. But a cause taking up the struggle to raise up your better angels, while knowing the demon is not far away. Or maybe it is an opportunity to love and forgive but tame your demons and remind yourself that no matter your demons, you still have angels.

I will tell you a story about it one day.


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