Life: It’s About Stories Told and Stories Yet to Tell

2 01 2012

My Dad is a great story teller, I remember as a child how he would invent stories about the adventures of characters strangely resembling my sister, brother and I. He’d come upstairs before bed and within moments we’d be be fighting dragons or evil wizards and overcoming death-defying odds to save a princess, every night a different story, every night we were hooked. My Dad’s improvised story telling was my first real experience of the power of a good tale told by a great teller. It was an early education in the workings of the wider world and one that has stuck with me, if you want people to listen to you, you’d better have a story worth hearing.

As we are coming to the end of the festive season, it seems appropriate to use the story of Jesus to illustrate my point about great story tellers and stories told. It is my belief that the thing that unites all great people, be it Jesus or Bill Hicks, is the ability to tell a good story. This is a universal truth, your story to date and your ability to tell it will directly affect your success in both the work and social environment. To illustrate my point, I am going to use the most controversial story of the last two thousands years, one that I do not believe actually happened, but one that is nonetheless, a great story and has valuable lessons for us all. Then I’m going to talk about comedy, because I want to and because 2011 Jesus would almost certainly have been a stand up comedian

OK, so I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the basic story of Jesus Christ… Born in miraculous circumstances and poor conditions with question marks surrounding his fathers mysterious absence. Raised by his mother and step dad in a happy home, where he learns the skills that will enable him to have a successful life both personally and professionally. The question of his true identity remains and as he grows older he seeks the truth about who he is and what his purpose is upon this earth.

Jesus the stand up comedian?

He works until he is thirty in a job that fails to fulfil him, at which point his story finally gets interesting. He meets a dude called John who baptises him and thus enables him to finally meet his father, who as it turns out, like many absent parents is great with the wisdom and guidance but not so good on the touchy feely stuff. This understandably fills Jesus with a cacophony of mixed emotions, the overriding one being a new found urge to get his fathers approval and have that cuddle he always wanted.

After forty days and nights in the desert confronting the darkest corners of his subconscious, Jesus has a moment of clarity and filled with vigour  he then sets about promoting his fathers ideas and values. Jesus himself is no mug, he has always been curious and therefore is well educated even for a man of his modest background. He’s a handsome dude and a funny guy, people seem to enjoy his company so it is not long before his story becomes one that attracts people from all walks of life, even a hooker or two.

During his journey he does some amazing things; he invents canapes, finds a more efficient way of transforming water into wine – known today as vinification – and becomes the great philosophical teacher of the age, not bad for just over a decades worth of work I think you’ll agree. Understandably if you do so much in such a short space of time, there are going to be those who will seek to twist your words and destroy you…we’re a jealous bunch us homosapien‘s.

Therefore things quickly turn nasty for Jesus and in a cruel twist of fate, his greatest strength – his faith in mankind – leads to his downfall as he is betrayed by one of those closest to him. This leads to his brutal but necessary death, one that enables his legacy to live on for over two thousand years and one that finally wins over the worlds toughest dad. That the story takes a twist of the supernatural is immaterial and serves only to elevate his purpose.

I’ve massively glossed over the story of Jesus there, but lets face it, its a long one and if you don’t know it you shouldn’t be looking to me to tell you. Regardless of what you think – and I’m happy to say that I am a touch sceptical that any of it happened – that is a great fucking story! Its got something for everyone, it’s the journey of one man, yet it is the journey of every man and woman that has ever existed. It covers the whole remit of human emotion in a brutally honest fashion through the eyes of one individual, much like modern day stand up comedy.

It is typical of humanity to take a great story that metaphorically outlines the oneness of man and find a divisive element to it. I don’t expect that in two thousand years people will be sitting around debating whether Harry Potter or Bilbo Baggins were in fact real people, they are just great stories. They will live on for the same reason the story of Jesus sticks around, because they have something to teach us about ourselves. It’s a story and a great one, but any great story can be twisted, people just need to learn not to get so pissed off about it.

I’m a huge fan of stand up comedy, I reckon if Jesus was around today he would have been a stand up comedian, it’s the only way anyone would have listened to a word he said and it’s the most effective way of getting a modern day audience to listen to a harsh truth. At its best, comedy can shed light on a different view point and open the mind to seek out new truth, at its worst it forces us to look at our values and engage in the ongoing discussion that is the evolution of our collective morality.

The Genius George Carlin

It is a truly wonderful thing and I believe that the great comedians, the Bill Hicks’ and George Carlin’s of this world should be held aloft and celebrated as the great philosophers that they were. These guys not only thought great thoughts but they thought them in ways that were easy to hear because comedy can touch anything and everything, laughter is the great leveller. They said and asked great things like: “We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution” (Bill), “Honesty may be the best policy, but it is important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second best policy” (George) “What do atheists scream when they come?” (Bill) and “I have as much authority as the pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” (George). If our politicians were as in touch with humanity as the worlds great comedians, and if they could find a way to tell their story with the same passion and truth at its heart, I for one would start listening again.

The best comedians have a way of touching on the underlying truth, without ever allowing their audience to realise that they are engaging in something deeper. In many ways, great comedy is in fact an attack on the subconscious, an attempt to open the eyes, but done in a way that seems totally natural. It is always an attempt to awaken a perceived universal truth that the comedian believes goes unnoticed. That some are good at it and some are bad is irrelevant, it is that need to speak of the unspoken that drives a stand up comedian, and it is that quality that makes them the great story tellers of the day. Here’s an example from the late, great Bill Hicks:

“I was in Nashville, Tennesee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, godammit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm . . . I dunno . . . I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” 

That in essence is what separates a great story teller from the rest of us, the ability to say something deep, succinctly in a way anyone can understand. So the question I ask you is this, what is your story and how are you going to choose to tell it? And don’t think for a moment that you don’t have a story to tell or that you can’t tell it, once again we look to comedy to enlighten us:

Wise beyond his years, hated by some, loved by many, died too young. Bill Hicks

Jimeoin, an Irish stand up comedian who lives in Australia:

“This is usually how a night out works; normally what happens is when people are telling you a story, half way through their story it will suddenly remind you of a story, so the whole way through their story your not listening to a word they’re saying. Your just thinking hurry up and finish that stupid story, mines next… but you have to pretend that your listening to their story, because if your not listening to their story, they’re not going to listen to your story. So you have to look like your listening. You don’t actually have to listen it’s just a trick…”

In that I think lies a simple truth, life is one big story and you are the author. It also tells you something about great story tellers, they’re the ones that actually listened to other peoples stories. That’s why you don’t hear much from Jesus until he turns thirty, up till that point he’d been busy listening.

The way I see it you have two choices when approaching your life. The closed book approach; you can write it as you see it now, in one draft, only ever going back to fill in details and facts about what happened, never considering how other peoples stories could enrich your own. Alternatively you can take the open book approach; accept that it’s not over till it’s over and you can edit, update, even change the whole purpose of the book as new information comes to light and as you reach understanding. You accept there are elements of the book that may forever remain unfinished, but that the story will be all the richer for it and you move on, to bigger and better things.

That’s what this blog is really, it’s just another element to my story, a story that I hope I have not even started to write, but one I know will be grounded in everything I have experienced to this point, and enriched by everything that is yet to come. I urge everyone to take the open book approach to their lives, that’s what Jesus and Bill did and love them or hate them, real or not real, there is no denying the quality of the story, and if you want to be remembered, you’ve got to have a great story.

Happy New Year…

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