Stories meant to inspire grand gestures can have the opposite effect. Let me give an example. There is a person whose work I very much admire in the personal fulfillment space. He is someone I listen to often and have great respect for. In spite of this, I have several problems with some of his teachings and the way he presents his stories.
One of the stories he often likes to tell is one in which a family member risked everything he owned, house, paycheck, you name it to start a company he had no idea would pan out. The ending is that it not only panned out, it panned out in the biggest and best way possible. The man’s grand kids are now running this widely successful company. There is prosperity and security for all of his loved ones and it is the best thing he ever did.
That’s it, that is the entire story and it is meant to inspire any of us who have ever been scared to death to take a big risk.
However, was that the achieved goal for every person who heard that story?
Stories like this leave me feeling depressed, confused, and angry, not inspired. I don’t feel fired up and ready to take on the world when I hear a story like this. Instead, I feel more separated than ever from humankind. Why? The “long story short” part of the story that always seems to get glossed over IS the part of the story I most want to hear. The devil is in the details. Telling a story is not a magic act so let’s lose the sleight of hand.
Let me say that I own these feelings one hundred percent. The man in that story and the person telling it are in no way responsible for them. No story teller is responsible for their audience’s reaction after initially taking that audience into account while they were crafting their story. Yet, when a story is defined more by the elements that are missing rather than the ones that are present and when I am left with more unanswered questions than questions answered, I feel unsettled and unsatisfied and I know that I wasn’t taken into account.
By not telling the entire story especially the details leading to this monumental success, the story teller is being purposefully DISINGENUOUS.
The word disingenuous literally means…
Not truly honest or sincere: giving the false appearance of being honest or sincere
This is a heavy accusation. It also happens to be my opinion and I am in no way trying to convince anyone of anything. But, I could not help wondering how someone I admired so much could cause negative feelings to bubble up inside me simply by telling a cherry-picked story meant to inspire? I truly wanted to believe everything this person was saying so my conflicting feelings felt uncomfortable and strange. Maybe it was me who was lacking in some fundamental way? All I wanted was the details, all the ones that were left out. When stories like this inspire uneasiness, I get angry.
I recently read a terrific book by Jodi Picoult entitled Small Great Things. It is about such heavy subjects as race, racial divide, racial equity, and racial equality. All of us are represented in her story and her research was impressively thorough. One of the main takeaways is that some of us, determined solely by the color of our skin, are born with more privileges than others. It’s a simple fact. Outside of race, you can bet that there are other privileges bestowed upon some and not others. This story bugged me so much because it intimated at a level playing field for all and that is simply not true. It then went on to rub more salt in the wound by what I strongly suspect were lies of omission.
I got the feeling that the man in this story had far more of a leg up in ways that were withheld. I am not saying there wasn’t hardship but to what extent and would we all judge it the same way? Was it worse than what some others have been subjected to when taking their own big risk? The problem with telling a story meant to impress and illuminate is the lack of objectivity in how it is being viewed by others. I know that details such as family members who would have taken you in or a nest egg that might have pulled you through for at least a little while doesn’t make for dazzling press but think of the goodwill created and the feelings of inadequacy saved.
Should we all just stop telling our stories with lofty goals in mind? No, of course not. Stories are hugely powerful, massively inspirational. But, let’s not forget that they also come with a dark side. Sometimes they are anything but these things and it is always up to the listener to decide. Tell your story with the listener in mind. Go the extra mile and define your listeners. You will not always get it right, especially if your audience is a global one but you will be story telling with integrity.
Choose your stories well and tell your stories better.