Need drama? Drop the context.

Have I told you about the time I had breakfast with Bill and Hillary?

And here’s another story I may not have mentioned: A few years back, Bolivia refused to let me enter the country. And, a story that might be a bit closer to home for most of you – the other night the best restaurant in town wouldn’t let me in. Sounds like the beginnings of good stories, don’t they? And they could be, as long as I don’t mention that I never made a reservation for the restaurant’s busiest night of the week. [More on Bill, Hillary and Bolivia in a bit.]

Isolated facts aren’t truth. Facts in context can be part of a truth.

modest proposalSometimes these half-truths can be harmless and entertaining, as when a tour guide never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. Does a storyteller – be they guide, clergy, broadcaster or politician – know or care that their audience may not recognize a metaphor? That their readers and listeners will take a tongue-in-cheek tale literally? Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal is an easy case-in-point: He wrote a satire to dramatize starvation in Ireland and a significant number of people actually believed he endorsed eating children. The more you know about Victorian politics, the more you recognize the thinly-masked snark of Alice in Wonderland. The more you know about Chinese history the more you recognize the Machiavellian satire of the Tao Te Ching. The more you know about the world around you, the more you recognize the irony and satire infused in a lot of current humour – and the absurdity that characterizes much of today’s world. And the more time you spend in an online echo chamber, the less you know about life.

As most of us gain some semblance of mature adulthood, we recognize that Once upon a time is generally the beginning of a fairy tale meant to make us feel good. No matter how bad things are for us right now, we’re reminded that in a time and place long ago and far away, truth, justice and good times prevailed. It’s a calming influence.

Today’s problem is that, for many people, times are bad. And politicians pander to the childlike, emotional, security-seeking parts of our personalities. While Trump’s a master storyteller, he’s not alone. There are many politicians, clergy and pseudo-journalists who can convince tired frustrated people that they’ll return them to a better time that has never and will never exist. But unlike traditional fairy tales, these tales promote rancor instead of relaxation, fear instead of fun.

Isolated facts, good stories and sales pitches all rely on gullibility and trust.

Some people are born gullible. Others are just too damned tired and place their trust in the first person who appears to know something. If a person you perceive as an authority tells you a tale, do you believe it? Should you believe it? [At what point do you recognize that the nice person named Sean or Sally from Bangalore is no longer solving your computer problem but selling their company’s solution?] Most of us know the timid homeowner who listens to a plumber’s convincing sales pitch and takes it as gospel, refusing to believe the neighbor who’s done the same repair for a fraction of the cost. And I’ve heard that there actually are a few people who pay sticker price for their car.

We need to find a balance between living in states of permanent paranoia and suspicion and living in a relaxed, trusting, nursery-like bubble. My view is that we need to remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Or, trust in god, but cut the cards.

alice-1Oh, and back to Bolivia. There’d just been a coup. The borders were closed to everyone, not just me. And Bill and Hillary? We were joined by over a thousand other close friends in a big hall just a few days before the 1992 election. It was a get-out-the-vote [GOTV] breakfast/rally for all of us who’d be working the phones and transportation to get people to the polls.

And now you know [l-o-n-g pause here]. . .

the rest of the story.