Byron's Babbles

Who Tells Your Stories?

Grandma’s first Last Supper painting!

I sat down to wait a few minutes for my son to get home for a visit yesterday afternoon and flipped on the American Pickers. As usual, Mike Wolfe made a comment that resonated with me. I learn a lot of history watching that show and would love to go on a pick with him sometime. After picking a father-daughter team’s collection, Wolfe said he was inspired to tell his daughter the stories now, so she did not have to wait till later in life, or worse yet, not hear them at all. It is so important that we tell our stories to the younger generation. On the show, this was related to the stories behind things they had in the house or things that had been collected, but could relate to lots of things. I’m reminded of times when our family is together and someone will tell a story and we will say things like, “wow I did not know that,” or “that’s where that came from.” I’m sure you can think of stories like that.

For example, a couple of years ago, while visiting with family at a brunch the morning after a family wedding, we got to talking about the Last Supper painting on my uncle’s dining room wall. Family members did not know that back in the ‘70s my late grandmother had painted one for herself and then decided to paint one for all of her four children. I can remember looking up at that painting as we ate meals at my grandmother’s house. I always loved grandma’s and when she passed away my mom, uncles and aunt gave me grandma’s because I was the only grandchild that was out on my own at the time and had loved it so much. I always check out the paintings when visiting because all five are just a little different. And, my Uncle Earl’s which was the last one she painted is the best of all. It is evident that she was improving as a painter. But I still love the first that I have hanging in my dining room (featured picture of this post). Incidentally, I also have the second, which is the one she painted for my mom (she was the oldest). This is a story I want all my cousins and everyone related to my mom’s side of the family to hear and know. Those Last Supper paintings tell a story, but it is my responsibility as the family member that knows all the intimate details to tell the story.

The cool part about bringing up the Last Supper paintings at family gatherings is the fact that grandma signed and dated them all. So that always makes for a lengthy discussion of what was going on in the world, who was born at that time, et cetera, et cetera. The stories get told. The younger generations hear and learn. I’m reminded of the final song from Hamilton, which I still have not seen in person and want to so badly. The song is Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. This is the finale song and is actually done by multiple characters. The song has a lot going on in it. Eliza Hamilton has the biggest part as she lived for 50 years after Hamilton’s death. Eliza wants to preserve his legacy and has lots of time, contrasted with Alexander running out of time. Eliza raised money for the Washington Monument, told the stories of American Revolutionary War veterans, and founded the first private orphanage, Graham Windham, in New York City.

If you think about it, the Hamilton broadway play has served an important part in telling the stories. So many more people know history that would be lost without the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. He told the stories! How about you? Are you telling the stories? If not, who tells your stories?

The Long & Short Of Great Stories

We’re all in situations where we have to be able to tell stories. I believe story telling is an important skill for leaders. It’s one reason I have fell in love with reading fiction novels. We can learn from great authors like Amor Towles. I am reading The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles right now and loving it. A quote I wrote in my notes the other day while reading was: “The funny thing about stories is they can be told as long stories or short stories or anything in between.” I thought about this today as I was doing a leadership development gathering in Georgia. A lot of how I facilitate gives the participants an opportunity to reflect and tell stories. Some are short and we long for more, others are long, and many are in between. Not everyone is a natural-born storyteller. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t run into a ton of different situations where we need to do just that.

I love listening to peoples’ stories. The more animated they get, the more interested I become. Our stories should be anchored in personal experiences and show vulnerability. I also love imagery. Imagery is one of the things I love about Towles’ writing. He is a master at this and I am striving to learn from his work. Right now I am reading about Duchess’ and Woolly’s trip from Nebraska to New York in the Studebaker they “borrowed” from Emmett without his permission. On the trip they are staying in Howard Johnson motels. Remember them? Orange roofs and blue spires. When Towles described the buildings, rooms, the restaurant, and even the food and placemats I was transformed back to my childhood and could see myself there with my parents. I was transformed back to those days gone by. Amazing! Towles knows how to give just the right amount of detail without overwhelming with unnecessary details. Something we all need to hone in our own storytelling. Reading the work of great writers helps us do this.

Good storytelling isn’t about buzz words and fancy language. It’s about conveying our message clearly and simply. We need to connect with our audience as humans. I always try to tell stories as if I was telling the story to my friends sitting around a fire on my back porch. Or, better yet, consider how you would tell the story standing around a water cooler. I guess shorter probably is better, but always remember, every story can be told long, short, or in between – the message is the key.

Telling Our Stories

Posted in 9/11, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Story, Story Telling, Storytelling by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 10, 2021

I am so loving The Bookshop At Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry. Patti has done such an incredible job of developing the characters in this novel. It is yet another affirmation that we can learn so much from fictional characters. We get to know everything about these characters. In real-life and non-fiction we only get to know what is revealed, based on authenticity. In the book it was said that, “Some things can only be told by those living them.” This is why how we live, lead, serve, and tell the story is so important.

Another line in the book, “Sometimes we tell our stories, and sometimes our stories tell us.” If that statement doesn’t cause you to stop, think, and take stock, I’m not sure what will. As I have watched interviews, reflected, and remembered 9/11 today these quotes from the book are even more powerful. Every person who was living on that day experienced the event differently. Those stories can only be told by each of us in the context we lived it. And, for some the stories tell much about the person.

Additionally, I had the chance to eat dinner with my son on Thursday night and his sliders came in a basket lined with cool paper printed with actual news stories. His paper had an article about November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and an article about when the Titanic was found. He wanted to talk about these two things. I was around for those events, but didn’t have much connection with the Titanic. I did, however, live through the Cold War and have stood where the Berlin Wall was and brought home pieces of the Berlin Wall.

As leaders we need to remember these statements. It is why relationships are job one. If we want to live by the Platinum Rule, “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them,” we must know the stories of those we serve. Notice the difference between the Platinum Rule and Golden Rule is only changing “you” to “they” and “them.” Now Jesus might not be happy with me promoting the platinum over the golden, but when we study the leadership of Jesus we find that he also took time to hear the stories and context of those he served. He met people where they were regardless of their story. One thing is for sure: we all have a story. We either tell that story, or it tells us.

The Whole Story

Another line in the great book I’m reading right now, Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead had an impact on me this morning and caused me to reflect. The line was, “I didn’t need to know the whole story. No story is ever completely whole.” As a person who always says things like “That’s not my story to tell.” This reminded me that we don’t always know the whole story. In fact, rarely ever do we know the whole story; or need to know the whole story for that matter. I’ve actually blogged about this before in It’s Not My Story To Tell in a little different context. The problem seems to be that ,somehow, we learn to confuse complete with perfect. Complete comes to mean existing within a narrow scope of our human experience. It means having all of the light and none of the dark. Having flaws or struggles make us less than. Why do we do this? The more we hold on to these beliefs, whether about ourselves or others we serve, the more we are let down. We don’t feel successful, happy, or connected, and we sure aren’t confident. None of this hardness makes us stronger.

As I continued to reflect, I realized that we really aren’t completely ever whole because each continues to mold us into the sculpture we are becoming. The whole of us is not just the shiniest parts. We tend to only look at those parts, both in ourselves and others. Then, when we don’t find what we think should be there we consider ourselves and others incomplete. We make complete out to needing to find all the missing pieces and then becoming something. Instead, wholeness should have us being who we already are – realizing the story is never completely whole. Everything is part of our wholeness. Being whole means seeing perfection and imperfection, hurting and healing, fear and courage as one in the same. Remember, everyone does not need to see the whole story. Also, remember you don’t always need to know the whole story.