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Monday, January 2, 2012

If you want someone to remember something, tell them a story.

As I have mentioned in this space before, when I am in Florida, I play in a couple of old guy’s softball leagues most weekday mornings. I have been playing in one league for about four years but the retired Marine drill sergeant who runs the league (and picks the teams every day) has never learned my name. Now there are more than 100 guys playing so this is understandable but last week I decided to fix the problem.
I decided to tell him the story of my name.
My parents were both Army Air Corps (now the USAF) officers during World War II. Pilots speaking over the radio on US planes when given an order always respond “Roger Wilco” which means “understood, will comply.” My father thought it would be a laugh riot to call me Roger Wilco Schank. My mother didn’t think that was all that funny. But he called the New York Times anyway and told them two air force officers had a son called Roger Wilco. He said if the Times printed the story on the front page, it stayed. I was told that they did print it, but not on the front page, so I got a more normal middle name.
The ex-Marine team picker loved this story and, this morning, he called me by my name when he picked me, muttering “RW” as he selected me.
I am telling this story because it has an important educational message. I have been talking about story telling for more than 20 years (since I wrote “Tell Me a Story.”) And, I am tempted to say, that the schools haven’t been listening, but it is not true.
Propagandists always knew the power of story telling for getting people to remember a message, which is why we all know the story of George Washington who never told a lie, but fail to remember the George Washington who married a rich widow to get her money and her 300 slaves.
If you want someone to remember something, tell them a story.

1 comment:

Mark Moran said...

I emphatically agree - and include an image to go with that story! I regularly Skype with K-12 classes to discuss web research skills. I tell students to verify critical information with at least 3 separate sources. To drive it home, I tell a story of when I got poked in the eye and had a large red dot in the white part; the website of a prominent Eye Hospital told me I had nothing to worry about, and I walked away comforted. Ten minutes later, realizing it was my eyesight at stake, I was back online, confirming it 4 more times. I tell this story to students and show a picture of an eye with a sub-conjunctival hematoma; teachers tell me they hear students saying to each other 6 months later, "Remember when Mark hurt his eye and looked it up 5 times?"