On Story Telling

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
― Leo Tolstoy

“And then the naked baby pointed his way home” may seem like an odd phrase to catch over the buzz of a dinner party half over. This phrase, however, is the much built up punch line of my favorite anecdote. The naked baby anecdote is one I closely guard. I have even, several times, refused to tell it because I did not feel the place and time were right. In order for me to tell about this life experience, I must be at a big party where the the night’s events have naturally turned to story telling.

These requirements may seem pretentiously stringent to you. You may even be thinking that no story can warrant so much protection—it’s not like I’m pouring my heart out, I’m simply talking about a funny thing that happened to me one time.

Well, believe it or not, I have reasons. Reasons that are born out of a love of story telling rather than an undue valuation of my own, semi-novel story.

First, the group must be larger than three. This is because if the group were smaller than three, the group dynamic is too intimate for the naked baby story. Small gatherings are usually the best kind, don’t get me wrong, but in that setting conversation is often more appropriately to do with the recent events of each other’s personal lives, our hopes, dreams, and the like. You may sometime observe the different reactions you receive when telling a funny anecdote to a large group as opposed to two people. Large groups feed off of one another’s emotions and reactions. Funny stories seem a lot funnier when you have a crowd to laugh with you, rather than just a friend to awkwardly smile at your attempts at humor. If I’m being completely honest, it’s in this instance that my past as a theater performer reveals itself. I want the big laugh. Not getting the big laugh makes me feel like perhaps this story I find hilarious may actually be just kind of lame. And so I wait—wait for the group large enough to reaffirm my inner comedian.

Second, we must be at a party. Sure, sometimes the best parties can be with just two people, or heck, maybe just a party by yourself, but that’s not the kind of party I’m talking about. The party I require is one where a group of people are getting to know one another better. Maybe it’s a group of classmates you haven’t seen in three years, or maybe it’s your church’s small group—no matter the context, you’re using story telling to get closer to people you may or may not already feel close to. Story telling is traditionally a segment essential to any party or family gathering—before the days of television and radio, we were each other’s best form of entertainment.

Third, the party must be engaged in a round of story-telling. I don’t like to be the one to initiate this, however. I often worry that my story is so outrageous, that if I were to begin with it right from the start, it will deter people from sharing their own stories that seem to have less razzle dazzle. Thankfully, at most parties, story telling will organically occur. People like to hear about others as well as share an insight into their own lives. This stems for our deep-set desire to know and be known. We want to feel like we have shared experiences with one another so that we can then empathize, understand, and defend one another.

I actually gauge how well I know a person based off of whether or not they have heard this story of mine, and I think many of us do this. It seems a human tendency to have a favorite story, and to gauge our friendships by how well our nearest and dearest can tell our own stories back to us. Sometimes we use stories to impress one another. Sometimes we use stories to humanize ourselves. Sometimes we even make stories up because we wish we were the kind of people portrayed within our dialog.

I’m not going to tell you my naked baby story today, but not because I don’t want you to know me better. I will refrain from sharing this story because I would like to save it for a time when I can hear your stories as well—so that we we will have equal chance to laugh and listen, tell and be told.


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