Saturday, January 03, 2009

Why I like To Tell Stories

I may never figure out the real reasons why events happen in my life but it will not be for lack of trying. It is the ultimate puzzle; our own existence. Besides, I rather enjoy solving puzzles.

The people that really know us, along with those who think they do, are usually mum about the subject. People do watch other people and attempt to figure them out. That is a very common sport. In fact, for many folks, watching other people is about the only thing they do outside of normal routines.

The Jolly Flatboatmen 19774

Television certainly contributes to this society of watchers instead of doers. So many people are lulled into the easy prospect of passively watching actors and other famous people streaming past as they act out preposterous scripts. Some even swoon over certain actors, dancers, or musicians. Other people love to cheer on their favorite sports celebrities or teams. Still others might shout at politicians while they deliver speeches on television, but most simply watch quietly. The majority of people leave it up to other people to make public displays of any kind. The sum total of people who actually do something, anything, in public, is rather limited.

Certainly there is no shortage of kids performing with their skateboards and young lovers on park benches. With the proliferation of digital cameras, it may seem as though everyone is attempting to become the next Steven Spielberg. In reality it is mostly young people uploading videos to YouTube or placing personal images on their FaceBook pages. As they grow older, most people learn not to make a spectacle of themselves.

It may be for a lack of creativity or perhaps stage fright but the majority of people seldom choose to do anything that might cause them to stand out from the crowd. You risk failure or ridicule or maybe even the loss of your job in these days when everyone carries a recording device inside their telephone. Most of us seem to like the narrow confines of our comfort zone.

If you speak out any subject you take the risk that other people might talk about you. People may discover a weakness or a prejudice you otherwise secretly harbor. There are even individuals that might try to use these uncovered personal details to exploit you in some way.

Somewhere along my path in life I learned that it is important to go out once in a while and have fun. I take that risk of being ridiculed. I express my gut feelings. I even create and embellish my various expressions, and possibly, just possibly, entertain a few people. I do this mainly for one important reason, so many people appear to me to be very stressed out by life's problems.

Telling a good story well is a great way to relieve stress. This is one reason why story-telling is such an ancient art. Shakespeare and Plato certainly did not invent the practice of spinning a good yarn. The telling of epics was once the only way the history of civilizations was handed down from one generation to the next.

It actually still is.

Historians may wish to believe their realm is almost an exact science but that is far from the truth. So is much of so called "recorded history." In truth the history we learn is really one version of the story told more often than all the rest.

The people with multiple college degrees that record the events known as "official history" find themselves picking and choosing certain parts to include. Historians and other writers select the events and the people that are most often remembered. They also like to select good accomplishments over the bad, in many cases.

For example the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, also owned slaves. From all we have been told President Lincoln was truly a great leader and certainly deserves his place in history. However, like most successful people in his day, for years Lincoln kept black servants working for his family to which he paid very little or nothing at all. So did Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and many other people.

Slavery and various similar practices were extremely common more than 100 years ago. People that considered themselves "free" including many Northern laborers were actually paid very small sums in exchange for very hard work. It is true that those people, unlike slaves, were usually free to walk away from their jobs. Slaves, on the other hand, were required by law to be returned to their owners upon capture.

Many business owners did keep and exchange detailed records of troublesome workers. They would not hesitate to advise others not to re-hire those that had proven unreliable in the past. Today we call these "credit reports" or "work histories."

There was also a system of debts. People that were paid small wages often accumulated relatively large debts. It was not unusual for their employers to be the ones that extended the loans that became these debts. Debts were and still are enforced by courts. If you quit a job and refused to repay your debt to an employer you could be sent to jail. This also still happens today.

Getting back to history and story-telling and Lincoln's place in both, it appears that good story-tellers are also often very successful people. If you can rattle off an exciting tale of adventure and intrigue you can often acquire a captive audience. Remember that most people prefer to watch and listen rather than stand up and be the show themselves.

Many people are bored with the lives they lead, they want to be entertained. People are quite willing to pay for entertainment like cable TV, books, and movies. Tickets to theater productions that are very good often sell out. Entertainers that draw people into business establishments, like pubs or nightclubs, are paid for that service.

So it pays to learn to spin a great web that becomes a tapestry of human experience, even if it only pays a little. And still you might end up with some debts which require you to create more tapestries. People you know may even repeatedly invite you to events based on how much they enjoyed the last time you visited. After all, people still enjoy having a good story teller around to break up the monotony. History certainly has proven that to be a true statement, hasn't it?

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