I have a lot of goals when it comes to my children and their homeschool education. One of my goals is that they learn how to be great communicators. In most conventional public school educations, communication is focused on the ability to write “papers”. Whether these papers are book reports or term papers, the focus is on writing that follows the “rules”.
I do less of this formal writing with my children and instead focus on helping them communicate their ideas and beliefs as a part of their daily lives. A key part of this is learning how to tell a good story. Story-telling is essential whether you are hanging out with friends, speaking in front of an audience, or writing a blog post.
When it comes to story-telling, Jim calls it being a “story-maker” and teaches the children about it this way:
Everyone loves a good story. The popularity of films, novels, and even the parts of peoples’ lives that are shared across the internet via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube testifies to the fact that we all love to know about the interesting things that happen to others. It also seems that some people have more good stories than others. While there is certainly providence at work in just about every good story, I think that there is more to it than just that. I believe that some people, these ‘story-makers’, put themselves in more advantageous positions to have interesting, unique, or powerful experiences. That’s where they get their good stories. Here’s what they do: they practice intention, attention, abstention, and retention as a part of daily living.
INTENTION. Story-makers live intentionally. They do not simply wait for life to happen to them. They have a cause, a crusade, a mission, or something that drives them. Every interaction or task is an opportunity for them to advance that cause. For the Christian, this may be sharing the love of Jesus. For others, it may be educating about animal abuse, or increasing awareness of an environmental or social concern. It does not have to be an exclusive ideal or a sole purpose, in fact, most story-makers probably have many causes. One cause could even be to find out about someone else’s cause. The intention of the story-maker is to make sure each interaction or task makes progress toward accomplishing a goal. This requires thought, and attention.
ATTENTION. Living intentionally does not just happen because one must think through the mission in order to advance it. Perhaps this is why not everyone is a story-maker. That sort of deep thought requires a lot of attention. Amusement, (the combination of the prefix “a-“ meaning not, or without, and the root “muse” meaning think, or meditate) is much easier and while fun… is by definition, not thinking. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against amusement. I do believe, however, that those who are less inclined toward it spend more time thinking, and are more likely to have thought about various causes and have a clear position on them. Story-makers have expended the mental energy of paying attention to think through where they stand on issues that are relevant to their causes. They spend more time in thinking, and less in amusement.
ABSTENTION. The act of holding oneself back directly relates to this issue of time, and how it is spent. Story-makers not only abstain from amusement at times, they also abstain from various other activities. By doing so, they leave their schedules more open and have more time available when the interesting, unique or powerful starts to happen. They do not plan every hour of every day. They are always busy doing something, but not all of it is planned. A story-maker I know told me that each day, he plans to accomplish one thing, and have one meeting. “That’s enough,” he said. Let me clarify that there is much more that this individual does in any given day, but only that much is planned. The rest flows organically out of having the time to live intentionally with those people and within those situations he encounters throughout the day. Story-makers have that time because they abstain from filling it up with planned activities.
RETENTION. Retaining the details of the experiences is paramount to the story-maker. Stories without details of who, what, where, when, why and how can be confusing, or boring, or lack power- even if the actual experiences were phenomenal. A huge tree falling in the forest makes a massive impact. But, as the old saying goes, if no one hears, then its ability even to make a sound is called into question. Story-makers remember the important parts of the story, and retain those details while shedding those that detract from the impact of the story. They don’t just watch the events unfold and sum up the experience with, “Whoa…that was awesome.” They intentionally pay attention to what to leave out and what to keep in.
Interesting, unique, powerful experiences are happening all around us every day. Many of us are too tired, distracted, or disorganized to realize it. Story-makers, because they are living intentionally, have a ready framework to organize the interesting events into stories. Because they pay attention to the details that are relevant, the stories are more powerful. Since they have abstained from packing their schedules too tightly, they have the time to let the stories develop into the unique drama of their lives. As a result, story-makers are able to retain the experience in all of its glory and package it for retelling, so that others may be inspired by, learn something from, or just plain enjoy … the story.
I’ve noticed that people are naturally drawn to a person who can tell a good story. Not only that, but their communications tend to be more memorable.
“Story-making” is definitely a skill that I want my homeschooled children to cultivate, practice and refine so that they can be communicate better with their friends, their employees, and (some day) even their own children.