Let’s take the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s two thousand years old, nice and short, and most of us know it.
It’s a good example of both why and how you tell a story. We’ll come back to How. For the moment we’re thinking about Why.
Imagine the situation: a teacher is being challenged by someone who knows his stuff. We’re not told the context, but the expert ‘stood up to test Jesus,’ which implies that Jesus was talking to an audience. This is what no public speaker wants! Someone in the audience is challenging you, distracting attention from what you are saying, even questioning your right to speak at all. Our teacher has to do two things, and quickly:
- take back control of the dialogue;
- make a complex and probably controversial point in a way that’s simple and going to get remembered.
How does he do it? By telling a story.
We must all have seen this. Two people are having an intense argument and in the middle of it one of them says “Look, suppose you saw someone coming towards you and…” They have started to tell a story. It’s going to be slanted to serve their side of the argument, but if they tell it well we may not mind. We all like stories. Once they’ve begun we want to know how they are going to end. We’ll shut up and listen. And we’ll remember. That’s why they make good teaching aids. The Good Samaritan has been remembered for two thousand years, even if we no longer remember quite how controversial it might have been.
Stories have that power. It’s because of what they do to us. Let’s look at another example: one I call ‘The Christmas House.’