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MARTHA SEZ: And the moral of the story is ...

March 28, 2014
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Facts and figures are all very well, but tell a story if you want to make a point.

Aesop, a slave in ancient Greece, knew this. Phrases from his fables are part of our vocabulary: sour grapes, crying wolf, wolf in sheep's clothing.

Winston Churchill, a man who certainly knew how to make a point, branded a political opponent a sheep in sheep's clothing.

Politicians in general use the story form as a vehicle to carry their audience emotionally when facts and statistics are too complicated or inconvenient.

Take for example the recent heartwarming narrative about the little boy who said he didn't want to be given a free lunch at school because a brown bag lunch from home connotes love. If you are a politician, cutting school lunches for poor children is not a good place to hang your hat. It could make you look heartless! How much better to tell a story in which the poor child himself says he doesn't want government handouts.

Yes, it was a magnificent moment, even if it didn't last long. Turns out the original story came from a book where it conveyed a different meaning entirely. The book's author, in fact, advocates for governmental food assistance. But who cares? The power of the story is in the moment, and carping later about what really happened doesn't change that.

I'm going to try it.

Me: A good friend told me the following true story about his cousin, a young girl who came across a snake in the road. It was a bitterly cold day in the Adirondacks. Even though it was March, the temperature was 10 degrees below zero. This girl- her name by the way was Annie - was deathly afraid of snakes. Ever since she was a little girl, she had had what she considered a premonition that her death, when it came, would be by snakebite. But this snake lay so still, she thought it was a stick until she was right next to it.

My opponent: What kind of snake was it?

Me: What's it to you?

My opponent: Well, it looks like it's going to turn out to be a venomous snake, like a green mamba or something, and there aren't any snakes like that in the Adirondacks.

Me: All right, it was a timber rattlesnake. So when Annie is almost right on top of it, the snakes says, "Oh, kind maiden ..."

My opponent: Wait, this snake can talk?

Me: Apparently. So the snakes says, "Oh, kind maiden ..."

My opponent: Where did it learn to talk like that? Nobody talks that way in the Adirondacks.

Me: Never mind that. The snake tells Annie it's cold. Would she please save its life by putting it inside her coat next to her heart, just until it gets warm?

My opponent: Don't do it, Annie!

Me: Annie was kindhearted.

My opponent: Was? Past tense? She was kindhearted?

Me: Don't interrupt.

My opponent: I think I can see where this is going.

Me: Against her better judgment, Annie picks up the snake and puts it inside her coat. She walks along toward her house, and every so often she asks the snake whether it's warm yet, and where would it like to get off, so to speak. As if she is a bus or something. Did it have a home, a nice burrow somewhere nearby? But the snake just keeps saying, "We're almost there, keep walking."

My opponent: Get to the point.

Me: Pretty soon, the snake says, "OK. This is my stop. You can let me off here." Annie unbuttons her coat, and just as she is helping the snake down to the ground, pow! It strikes and buries its fangs in her heart. Annie says, "Why did you do that, when I was trying to save your life?" And the snake says, "Don't blame me, kid. You knew I was a snake when you first met me."

My opponent: I thought she thought it was a stick.

Me: Snake didn't know that.

My opponent: So, she died?

Me: Uh huh.

My opponent: Oh yeah? Well, how does anyone know all this, if Annie wasn't alive to tell the tale?

Me: The snake was bragging about it at the Ausable Inn.

My opponent: Oh. Right.

The moral is, always write your stories down so you have control of the story line. It's much harder when you allow your opponent to say anything he wants.

Have a good week.



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