St. Steven's GreenFor the past couple of years, my wife and I (and by extension, our family) have engaged in a small “project” we tend to refer to as “good stories”. Basically, it is this: When we see someone out in public who does something really stupid/infuriating/bone-headed/embarrassing/etc., rather than view the situation with the obvious (and most likely) context, we try to come up with a “good story” to cover for them.

My wife and I were taking an early Sunday morning walk by St. Steven’s Green in Dublin last year, when a redhead in a slightly-disheveled party dress and high-heels walked out onto the sidewalk in front of us. She didn’t seem too steady on her feet when she made it to the end of the block and turned onto Grafton Street. Zan made a comment to me about “the walk of shame”, but I said we needed to tell a “good story” about her, so we decided that she must have forgotten to set her alarm clock and woke up late, and was hurrying on her way to church. Not only did this make us laugh, but it reminded us that it was possible that not everything might be as it appeared.

[This was actually one of the first official "good stories" we sold, though the root of the idea came from my late grandmother, who always looked for the most charitable explanation for other peoples' (or even animals') behavior. It was a quality that struck me most about her, as I never heard her say a negative word about anything.]

For me, the best times I come up with “good stories” are when I’m driving and the guy in front of me (or beside me) does something dangerous/rude/boneheaded. Now, almost reflexively (even if I’m the only one in the car), I find myself coming up with a “good story” ( Oh, his coffee must have spilled on his leg, and he’s doing everything he can to maneuver with a scalded thigh!). It’s certainly a lot better than the alternative of getting mad at the driver – and sometimes (if there are two or more of us in the car) it becomes quite funny as we try to embellish the story to make the guy into some sort of hero, rather than the cad he’s most likely being…

The one problem I have, though, with “good stories” is that I’m far better at making them, and letting them be, when I don’t know the lead character in the ’story”. In engineer/scientist speak, the likelihood and overall quality of a “good story” is inversely proportional to the degree of familiarity with the subject of the story.

And this is sad.

Why? Because it means that I’m far more willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to be charitable toward a complete stranger than I am to a friend or family member. So my challenge, for myself, is to find a way to tell “good stories” about the people I know, rather than let them frustrate me…




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