There’s a reason why communication is enhanced through stories: They work. A compelling story will connect, engage, and enlighten.
Jesus told stories, “parables,” and lives were changed—at least for those who really listened. In our day a good story still effectively strips away pretense and cuts to the heart of a matter.
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan took the State of the Union messages to a new level when he pointed out a man in the upstairs gallery. It was a hero at the scene of a winter plane crash in D.C. who selflessly rescued a passenger from the icy Potomac River. Most everyone who watched that speech remembers that man’s name: Lenny Skutnik.
In telling the story, the president said this:
“Just two weeks ago, in the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest …the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters.
And we saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.”
Pretty good for a guy who each day didn’t exactly risk bodily harm, while working at the U.S. Budget Office printing department.
By the way, during his career he also worked other jobs including painter, supermarket employee, restaurant cook, meat packing plant processor and furniture factory worker
In other words, he wasn’t trained in “how to be a hero one day.” When the time was right, he didn’t mull it over. Lenny just did what he needed to do, while hundreds of others watched from the riverbanks, wondering if the woman would slip under the water, never to be seen again.
Great stories, especially those that are true or based on non-fiction circumstances, are the ones we remember. From that Reagan speech until today, there’s always someone (or many someones) who sit in the gallery above the U.S. House of Representatives floor, waiting for the moment when a current president highlights what they’ve done to inspire other Americans. It’s a very nice tradition, even though sometimes leaders choose to politicize who sits up there and why.
I’m always amazed how my wife can tune into a television drama two-thirds of the way through a show with no idea of what’s been going on, and become totally engrossed in the story. I will then be warned to change channels at my own risk. Wonder of wonders, she will pick up on the story in no time.
Well-told stories make people pay attention. When they’re shared honestly, with passion and conviction, they also touch hearts, and are capable of causing those who hear to make adjustments in their own lives.
A few years ago, one of my favorite stories actually happened to me. My friend, Apollo XII astronaut Alan Bean (one of only 12 humans who have walked on the face of the moon) taught me a significant lesson while we were waiting for our flights home after an event at the Kennedy Space Center. After a weekend of seeing hundreds of Americans line up to get autographs and have photos taken with dozens of space explorers, everyone was heading out of town, catching flights at Orlando International.
As I waited in line for a breakfast sandwich and coffee, I noticed Alan sitting across the food court, quietly munching his cinnamon roll. Just hangin’ out, like an everyday guy…the legendary astronaut, who also made history on America’s first space station, Skylab.
Alan noticed me watching him. He smiled, nodded hello, invited me to join him. As I pulled up a chair I told him I was amused by how most people don’t recognize the heroes around us.
Alan said, “Nope, I’m just enjoying THIS moment.” For emphasis, he looked me straight in the eye, smiled and declared, “This cinnamon roll is the most important part of my day… RIGHT NOW.”
I got the lesson: Seize the moment, live in it, enjoy it, savor it…always. From that day, when I see Alan I remind him how important that event was to me, and how I now refer to it as “The Parable of the Cinnabun.”
Getting the most from every moment in life helps us understand events, learn new things about ourselves, and have many new stories to share with others.
So… what’s your favorite story?
— by Mark Larson
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at www.marklarson.com.