Details

There is one type of person who drives me crazy, a type of person I drive crazy, the type of person who focuses on details, specifics, minute information that does nothing to shed light on what you are trying to understand. OK, to an engineer, an accountant, a carpenter, details are everything. I get that and that is reason #203 why I am not any of those professions. I am a Minister, a columnist, a storyteller, and in my vocation the craft depends on laying out a verbal picture that assists the listener to know the subject of my talk. If I am describing someone you know but not well I will tell some stories and the stories will open up to us an understanding of what makes her/him tick. I am not interested in telling you how old s/he is, where exactly they were born, the precise title of their job, the name that appears next to their name in their mailbox. Instead I will say “s/he was middle aged” or “a proud Cape Bretoner” or say s/he lives on Robie Street even though technically s/he lives on a tiny little street off of Robie Street.

Storytellers know their audience. We know listeners to our stories don’t care that the person we are describing lived on Swaine even though we said Connaught Avenue. No one knows where Swaine is and it is a detail the listener does not care about. But there are people who are listening to our stories and will shout out, “NO s/he lived on Swaine…” The story may be about a man who rescued former racing greyhound dogs or a woman who fed hundreds of children a school lunch but to this listener it is vitally important to get every detail correct. “SWAINE!!!” it is. Sigh.

I completely understand why people who work in fields where an inch here or there makes the difference between an accident or happy comfort or someone for whom adding an extra $5 is the difference between a sale or a polite “this baguette is $5, no way!” But when it comes to telling a story, especially to explain the mind set of someone the listener does not know well that level of fact-checking is not only irrelevant it is distracting. And it can undermine the whole experience for the listener. When I am listening to a storyteller trying to open up the personality and character of someone I don’t know well I get very irritated by someone constantly interrupting with, “no, he didn’t drive 20 km to get save him, he drive 32 km.” My instinct is to turn around say to their interrupter, “who cares!” But good manners keeps me silent.

The other problem with detail people bringing their skill-set to the art of storytelling is when they themselves are tasked with being the storyteller. When a eulogist begins her/his remarks with, “On September 15, 1935 Myrtle and Joseph Power welcomed into the world their first born, Sarah Annabelle Power, weighing in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces, at the Grace Maternity Hospital on University Avenue at 6:36 am” you know you are in for a long afternoon. I always tell eulogists not repeat the obituary as everyone has already read it and frankly they have gathered to hear an oral presentation which lends itself far more to storytelling than a Wikipedia submission.

I am not saying exact details and facts are not important. What I am saying is that the medium is important to consider when the urge to fact check and correct details comes upon you. When we hear Bible stories like the book of Genesis, giving us an oral history of God’s intent for Creation, we are not listening for exact science or even a news story of how it all happened that day. Rather we are listening for the purpose, colour and character that is revealed in the story. When I hear the story of Genesis, the story of Creation, what matters to me is who is revealed as the Creator and what that Creator is telling me about Creation and the Creator. How many vegetables were in the garden, what kind of apple Adam bit, and what kind of trees came first, don’t matter to me and they don’t matter to most people.

No one should let someone like me do a science experiment or build a deck. And we don’t need people who live for details to edit every story they hear. Let’s know ourselves and what we offer each other.