Humans are wired for storytelling.
Great stories capture our imagination, bring ideas to life, tug at hearts, inspire our thoughts, feelings and actions, and also inform and entertain. You get the picture.
As a kid, some of the best stories I was told included:
- A fairy who left 50 cents under my pillow each time I lost a baby tooth
- A jolly man in a red and white suit who flew around the world in a sled once a year to leave me and other kids presents
But my best story was yet to come.
As I moved into my teens, my parents sent me to a school run by sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth order.
Once there, I was told a compelling story about a life and death matter called salvation which the sisters unfolded each week.
The salvation story
This story involved original, mortal and venial sins, damnation, leaping fires, burning bodies, confession and the power of prayer; stuff I’d never heard about before.
It made it to my Hall of Fame for Best Story because, like my earlier best stories, it too tapped into the basic elements of great storytelling.
In simple terms, these Hall of Fame stories focused on a struggle between my expectations of something and what actually happened.
What’s more, each story evoked a deep emotional response, with the salvation one actually rendering a visceral reaction.
My battle with Santa
Take Santa. It was made pretty clear as I was growing up that if I was bad – like not doing my chores and being mean to my little brother – Santa might not bring me any presents. Nada.
In the lead up to Christmas you can bet that I was extra good. And, for being very good, I expected to be rewarded. So, each year I wrote Santa a present wish list which my parents dutifully posted to the North Pole.
My ‘goodness’ in the last three months of each year was matched by my inner turmoil: had I been good enough to get what I asked for or not?
Even worse, had my little brother been better than me?
I knew he did bad stuff like hide his school lunch under his bed for weeks. This meant he was buying treats from the tuck shop. What’s more, he was probably using pocket money taken from his piggy bank.
I wasn’t sure Santa was aware of this.
Fast forward to adulthood. By now, I’d borrowed, created, shared and been told thousands of stories spanning the fanciful, delightful, deeply moving and even painful.
They had stirred my joy, compassion, pathos, anger and even disgust.
But the best story I’ve ever been told was as an adult when I was approached by a shy 17-year-old boy in a Sydney fruit and vegetable market.
Be sure to check out part two next week.
- What’s your best childhood story?