6-10: Good Stories Matter

6. Reading is a necessary life-skill.

Leaders are readers.  Read lots of stuff.  Blogs, books, magazines.  Read the best stuff in your area.  Read fiction.  Read bestsellers.  Read classics.  Read books you’re pretty sure you’re going to disagree with.  Just read.  Seriously.  It’s a skill you can develop.

It just occurred to me that, if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir.

7. There is such a thing as good literature.  Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer and Tim LeHaye are not it.

If you’re reading, I’m so glad.  But please read good books.  Not the trash that gets pawned off as literature.  Yes, I’m a snob about good books and I will never apologize for it.  The world is packed full of good books, so you don’t ever need to waste your time with crap.  I’m sure I just offended tons of people, but see above: on this issue, I will not apologize.

Do. Not. Read. Bad. Books.  It’s actually okay to get into a book and quit because it’s not a good book.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way.  Do yourself a favor and do the work of finding and reading good books.

8. Good stories are hard to find.

Good StoryNot because there are so few, but because there’s so much clutter out there (see #7).  Good stories transport us outside our small worlds and to a place that’s bigger than we can imagine on our own.  They show us ourselves at our best and worst.  They’re mirrors that show us our true selves (because let’s face it: we all need help with that).

Here are some of my favorite stories: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Anansi Boys, The Dark Knight, The Shawshank Redemption and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

9. Good story-tellers can make anything interesting and worthwhile.

Seriously.  Good story-tellers make even the most mundane activities or scenes burst with life and energy.  They use words to unveil a reality that you see has been there all along, you just couldn’t see it.  They show you the magic that imbues even the very mundane and ordinary.  And they make it look easy, but it’s not.  It’s not a gift… it’s a carefully cultivated skill.

Some of my favorite storytellers: Stephen R. Donaldson, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Johnny Cash,

10. You can learn to be a good story-teller.

Just to be clear, this is a bad story-teller.

It’s true.  What looks like magic is actually blood, sweat and lots of tears.  We are hard-wired for stories, so there are some basic skills anyone can develop to become a better story-teller (and –hearer for that matter).  Donald Miller has been working quite a bit on this lately, and has tons of great suggestions about how to become a better story-teller.  Here’re some books I also highly recommend if you want to work on this!

Resonate – Nancy Duarte
Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
Communicating for a ChangeAndy Stanley

Whew – that’s 6-10.  Next week I’ll start off with my all-time favorite story character (no big surprise there).  But for now – how important are stories to you?  What are some of your favorite?  Who are some of your favorite story-tellers?

1-5: Other People Matter!

I don’t usually get weird about birthdays, but a couple weeks before I turned 30 (on October 23), it hit me that – arbitrary or not, 30 is a pretty big milestone.  Since then, I’ve been wondering what I’ve learned in my first 30 years of life.  Here’s what I’ve come up with, 5 at a time!

1. The person who knows 1, knows none.

This would probably be hilarious if we knew Arabic...This is true of languages, religions, culture and pretty much everything.  If you don’t take time to get to know someone else in a real and deeply significant way, you won’t know yourself.  We have less in common with God than we do with any person on the planet.  If we don’t learn how to live in true community with Others, we won’t connect with God as fully as we could.  We were designed to need each other.

2. You’ll get further this week developing a genuine interest in 2 other people than trying to get 2 other people interested in you.

palsThis is a quote from Tim Sanders. It’s true.  Dale Carnegie also talks a lot about this in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  My dad made me read that book when I was 16 and it’s still one of the best books I’ve ever read, one that has shaped me more than most.  Learn the art of caring about others… it’s a skill you can develop.  And it will change who you are.  For the better.  Because at the end of the day…

3. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

I have one of these waiting for you... you know, if you drop by for a visit.

We are created in the image of the God who is fundamentally a giver.  We are hard-wired to be most fully ourselves when we’re giving.  This is the direct opposite of what our culture teaches (and you’ll hear in any Economics class that there’s no such thing as a self-less gift).  Giving makes us more human, more truly ourselves.  You can learn this art (and if you want a good place to start, do yourself a favor and pick up Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge).

4. If you can help it, don’t open your mouth unless you’re giving something to someone.

I’m not here yet, but this is where I want to get.  I tend to be a very sarcastic person by nature, and I’m tired of making people feel like trash.  I want to be a person who’s a constant source of encouragement and life to other people.  I don’t want to feel good at someone else’s expense.  It’s something I’m still working on.

5. You have to fight for good relationships.

Quite a comeback they're making! I hope they win!

Somehow, I think we all got the impression that if a relationship is right and good, it just comes naturally.  Well, bad news… that’s a dirty lie.  True life-giving relationships take a lot of work.  We have to learn that Others are never going to be like us, no matter how much we try to change them.  God revels in diversity, so we have to figure out how to live with Others.

And that takes work.  In marriage, in friendship, in family, at work and church and even international politics (I suspect).

We’ve been fed the lie that we should surround ourselves with like-minded people and we’ve happily gobbled it up.  Time to switch tables and find some new cuisine!

If you want a good place to start, try reading a book by a person you don’t like (or think you won’t) and forcing yourself to write down something positive for every negative thing you say.

That’s it for this week… next week’s all about Story.  But for now, what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?