The Power of a Good Story

“Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” – Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge

Everyone loves a good story.  Stories teach, entertain, heal, touch, remind and, probably most importantly, help us apply intangible concepts and character values that we learn elsewhere.  Can you imagine trying to learn to become “trustworthy” without a good story?  Or “loyal”?  Or learning to “Do A Good Turn Daily”?

The way we learn – really learn – is by understanding how to apply those concepts.  If the learner only understands a principle, without understanding how to apply it, it has no value in his or her life.  A kind mentor once said to me, “Charles, the teacher has not taught, until the learner has learned AND changed his life.”  And the way we get those concepts of the Scout Oath and Law into the minds and hearts of our youth is often through stories and our own personal example.

President Thomas S. Monson was a master storyteller. In 1997, in response to an oft-asked question about the relevance of Scouting he responded:

“A few years ago, a Scouting skill taught by a leader such as you saved a life – in my own family.  My nephew’s son, eleven-year-old Craig Dearden, successfully completed his requirements for Scouting’s swimming award.  His father beamed his approval, while his mother provided an affectionate kiss.  Little did those attending the Court of Honor realized the life-or-death impact of that award.  Later that very evening it was Craig who spotted a dark object at the deep end of the family swimming pool.  It was Craig who, without fear, plunged into the pool to investigate and brought to the surface his own little brother.  Tiny Scott was so still, so blue, so lifeless.  Recalling the life-saving procedures he had learned and practiced, Craig and others responded in the true tradition of Scouting.  Suddenly there was a cry, breathing, movement, life.

“Is Scouting relevant?  Ask a mother, a father, a family who know a Scouting skill saved a son. Scouting had reached out to rescue.”

As a Scoutmaster, I knew the importance of stories in teaching the basic principles included in the Scout Oath and Law.  Often, those stories came from the lives of the Scouts themselves as they practiced the principles taught and then “returned and reported.”  I can’t think of “A Scout is Kind” without thinking of Chris Piner and Dennis Packer – two of my Scouts when I was Scoutmaster.  Each holiday during the year, these two 13-year-old boys would dress up in costumes and appear at our doorstep with a dance, a greeting or a serenade.  On St. Patrick’s Day, they showed up dressed in green doing an Irish jig.  On President’s Day, I opened the door to see an 8-foot-tall Abe Lincoln standing on my porch singing “God Bless America.”  Actually, it was Chris Piner, complete with black beard and top hat, standing on the shoulders of Dennis Packer, who was covered with a long black frock coat.  I’m not sure why they decided to entertain us each holiday.  Perhaps it was because they knew they were loved and we loved having them at our home – and perhaps it was my wife’s chocolate chip cookies that were always on hand for visitors.  However, whatever the motivation, we LOVED having them come and they warmed our hearts.  I think they, too, learned the blessing of serving and lifting others as they made their holiday pilgrimages to our doorstep.  As Scout is Kind.

And I can’t think of “A Scout is Trustworthy” without thinking of Andrew Flosdorf.  Andrew, 13 years old, of Fonda, N.Y., was in the National Spelling Bee a number of years ago and, during the contest, was given the word echolalia. The judges thought he had spelled the word correctly, even listening to tapes before making their decision.  However, during an afternoon break, Flosdorf approached the judges and told them that they had misunderstood him, and that he had mistakenly substituted an “e” for the first “a” and thus misspelled the word.  Andrew said he learned of his mistake when other contestants asked him how he spelled the word. He checked and realized he had in fact misspelled it.  The judges initially told Andrew that they had already listened to the tapes and that he had spelled the word correctly.  But Andrew insisted that he had misspelled the word.  Finally, the judges went back and listened to the tapes again and, sure enough, concurred with Andrew that he had, indeed, misspelled the word, and Andy was immediately dropped from the competition.  During a break, Andrew was asked by a newspaper reporter why he did it – when the judges had already approved his spelling of the word and he could have continued in the competition.  Andrew initially responded with a typical 13-year-old response, “Ah, I didn’t want to feel like a slime.”  The reporter then said, “No, this is serious.  Why did you do such a thing?”  Andrew simply said, “Sir, I am a Boy Scout.  And the first rule of Scouting is honesty.”  I have told that story many, many times, in the hope that somewhere, someplace, when a young man or young woman (or an adult leader) is faced with a moral decision, they will remember the story, remember13-year-old Andrew Flosdorf, and remember that “A Scout is Trustworthy.”

Helaman 5 tells the story of Helaman who gave his sons the names of Nephi and Lehi and then told them stories of their ancestors and their good works, all for the purpose “…that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when you remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good…Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them.”  Later in that chapter, the effectiveness of Helaman’s teaching and Nephi’s and Lehi’s learning was summed up in these words, “And they did remember his words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God…”  Helaman 5:14. That chapter alone includes the word “remember” 15 times.  It is found a total of 240 times in the Book of Mormon.  Stories help us “remember.”

One of our great Latter-day Saint Scouters, S. Dilworth Young, said in General Conference in April 1975:

“Have you ever used a campfire to inspire a boy to go on a mission? This is a most important experience in the life of a boy. The opportunity I missed to do this is one of my most intense regrets. I have organized and conducted about 1,150 campfires during the time I was professionally in the Boy Scout movement and organized the programs presented during those exciting hours. With other leaders, I have told stories to 15,000 boys.

“Firelight producing flickering shadows through the darkening trees, or reproducing itself endlessly in the lapping waters of a quiet lake, the moon making a delicate filigree through the canopy of leaves, the mysterious stars winking their eternal signals of distant worlds—all have put a boy in a receptive mood to hear my message. I have achieved some fame as a storyteller. The one I am most famous for is called “The Wendigo”—Algernon Blackwood’s thriller about the New Brunswick woods. That story never sent a single boy on a mission. It was a thrilling story, but the motivation was not of the kind which sends a boy on a mission—rather, it tended to pull the covers over his head.

“I have often wondered what would have happened if I had relived with these boys in those high moments of mystery while the magic worked, the adventures of Samuel H. Smith as he slogged along through those wet spring woods, stopping at primitive cabins or at village homes, telling people of the book his brother Joseph brought forth.

“Or of the dangerous walks of Wilford Woodruff through the wilds of Missouri, where there lurked men more dangerous to him than the bears and wolves he saw en route.

“Or of the 400-mile trip 125 years ago on skis of my wife Hulda’s father in Norway to distribute tracts and proclaim what he had just learned as a new member. Were his frozen feet and the danger of complete freezing any less of an adventure than those of an American missionary?

“I could have influenced every boy to thirst to find his relationship to God our Father, and his Son, and then to go forth to be saved from grave danger by the miracle of the intervention of heavenly aid. Today the danger may be more moral than physical—but the whispering still will save him if he can learn to hear it.”

May we, too, take time to teach our youth those concepts, using stories, our own examples and personal mentoring that they may learn, understand and be able to apply those principles that are so critical to being prepared – for life.

We live in a day when the values and virtues of Scouting are more important than ever before.  Our nation and our world need men and women who are “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent; men and women who do their best to do their duty to God and their country, to help other people at all times, and who strive daily to keep themselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.  May our personal examples and the stories we share, in a Scout meeting, in Scoutmaster interviews, in Merit Badge Counselor conferences, around a campfire – all work to that end.

Charles W. Dahlquist, II
Vanguard International Commissioner

 

 

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