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Blog | Jim Blackburn Seminars

13Sep

The Power of Storytelling

I first remember hearing stories, many years ago from listening (sort of) to my Dad finishing a Sunday sermon at the Wake Forest Baptist Church in the small town of Wake Forest, or at the church by the same name on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. About five minutes before he stopped preaching, just before noon, he would say the words “and you know…” I knew a story was coming, and lunch, usually fried chicken at the college cafeteria, was not far behind.

I loved learning to tell stories in the courtroom in the form of closing arguments to the jury.  A trial, if you think about it, usually consists of two stories, and the side that does it best often has the best chance of winning. Joe McGinniss, the writer who wrote Fatal Vision, once said that a trial is like seeing pictures hung on a wall. In a criminal case, the prosecutor seeks to put pictures up, and it is the job of the defense to take them down and put their own pictures there, instead. Whoever has the most pictures on the wall at the end is the side that is most often victorious.

I believe that stories are the key to learning. If you think about it, the Bible itself is full of stories, all thousands of years old. The history of ancient times is handed down in well-told stories. A well-written story is what we like to immerse ourselves in to escape everyday life. Even non-fiction writing is an attempt at storytelling based in truth. Movies and television shows are feature length stories -- some true, most are not.

So a couple of weeks ago, when I read online that the Sunday sermon at the church I attend in Raleigh was going to be about storytelling, I got myself together and made the early service. The minister told of a trip he and others had taken the week before to a small, somewhat desolate part of West Virginia, where the purpose was to spend some days helping a family make improvements to their home. When they arrived, they saw that it was small, in some disrepair, and located between a highway and a river. It did not look good.  Financially, the people who lived inside were very poor.

One member of the family was a severely physically disabled person, named Anna. She was not in good shape. But in the middle of the family living room was a small table, and on the top of the table were sheets of paper. Actually, they were songs that Anna had written and loved to sing. Anna could write songs and sing them very well. She has a God given talent for it.

For the entire week, these people from Raleigh, all better off financially and perhaps healthier than Anna, learned from her as they helped to improve the house where she lived. These songs are Anna’s story. They represent what she wants to say about her life, and where she lives.

The minister went on to say that so often we see people in simple one dimensional terms. We think that what we initially see is all there is. But if we take the time to look just a little closer, we see there is more every time. We are more complicated than we let on. We have more interests than people know. No one is really simple. 

Often, in my programs, I ask attorneys and paralegals what they would like to do with their lives if they were not in the legal profession. The answers range from photography, being a chef, flying airplanes, interior design, and one attorney who wants to chuck it all and become a country preacher. What I learn, and they from each other, is that everyone has more than one interest and more than one talent. This is often the most uplifting part of the whole day.

Years ago, I remember speaking to the business staff of the Raleigh News & Observer. At the conclusion of my comments, a lady in the back of the room raised her hand and asked me how I wanted to be remembered. Until that moment, I don’t think I had ever thought about it. I really had no good answer and probably just mumbled a few sentences, trying to get to the next person. 

But I never forgot her question, and I hope you don't either. Each one of us has a story to tell, and a good one at that, for each of us has one or more unique talents. It all depends on whether we choose to find and use them. It is never too late to do that.

Think about it. What is your story? What is your life? What do you most like to do? What are your talents? Have you ever thought about telling someone? Wouldn’t that be something if, after all this time, you learned that you are in fact, a good storyteller, and you have a really good one to tell.

It might make you smile.

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