Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Stories that Reveal the Real You

Self-instructed scholar Kenneth Burke contributed many concepts to the study communication in general, and to specifically literature. One of his ideas is called the "representative anecdote." You can also call them stories that explain you, or explain someone else.

For example, I have many representative anecdotes related to Hugo Chavez, authoritarian charismatic president of Venezuela. My favorite story that explains him is the following. In January, 2008, Chavez decreed a new time zone for Venezuela, exactly one half hour off from the pre-existing time zone. Their time zone used to be the same as East Coast time during daylights savings time; Venezuela is west of the U.S.

So, what do you imagine the benefit to the country would be to have a time zone, all its own, one half hour off from what it used to be.

Well, the given reason was that it would help school children not have to get up in the darkness. (????) Exactly.

Chavez changed the time zone because it was easy, it affected everyone who lives in and deals with Venezuela, and because he could. He performs random acts of authority almost every week, just to remind everyone that he can.

So what story explains who you are?

One of my favorites is the time when I was five years old and I cut the electrical cord connecting a lamp to the wall, which was turned on at the time. I wanted to see what electricity looked like. I was scared, but felt the fear and did it anyway. I got the shock of a lifetime, and was told that I ruined my mother's sewing scissors.

What anecdotes tell your story? Not the stories about when you fulfilled other people's expectations, the good daughter or dutiful husband, but the ones where you really did what you wanted to do.