What Mr. Lincoln Taught Me about the Power of Stories

While defending a man against an assault charge, Lincoln claimed it was more like self-defense, as in the case of a man he knew who was walking down the road with a pitchfork and was attacked by a very fierce dog. In trying to ward off the dog’s attacks he stuck the prongs f the pitchfork into the animal and killed him. According to Lincoln, the dialogue that followed went like this:

“What made you kill my dog?” said the farmer.

“What made your dog try to bite me?” the man answered.

“But why didn’t you go after him with the other end of your pitchfork?”

“Why didn’t he come after me with his other end?”

The jury found Lincoln’s client innocent of assault.

Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury said, “Many of Mr. Lincoln’s stories were as apt and instructive as the best of Aesop’s Fables.”

3 Reasons to Use Stories

Lincoln used stories for many different reasons, but here are three reasons that stand out to me.

1.) Stories are tools of persuasion use to avoid provoking people.

Lincoln said, “They say I tell a great many stores and I reckon I do, but I believe that common people, are more easily informed through the medium of a broad illustration than in any other way.”

Studies show that people are more receptive to information presented as a story than if it is merely presented as a dry, unadorned, fact.

2.) Stories are an entertaining and compelling way to connect with people. Lincoln commented, “Stories are the shortest path between strangers and friends.”

Carl Schurz, a union general who first met Lincoln on a train described the meeting by saying,

“I soon felt as if I had known him all my life and we had very long been close friends. He interspersed our conversation with all sorts of quaint stories, each of which had a witty point applicable to the subject at hand.”

3.) Stories have the power to bring about change. Our stories we chose communicate a deeper meaning, our values, hopes and ideals in a way that most people can relate. They show us the difference between what is and what could be.

Plato said, “Those who tell stories rule the world.”

“I am not simply a story-teller,” said Lincoln, “It is not the story itself, but its purpose that interests me.” He didn’t force his messages on his audience, he let in unfold in their own imaginations.

Where to Get Stories

Like me, you may not be a natural born storyteller, and you might not have a treasure trove of fascinating stories to draw upon. But Lincoln said that he almost never invented stories. He told stories and jokes he remembered hearing or reading and he adapted them to fit the issue at hand.

Draw upon stories that you have personally experienced, or utilize stories that you have heard or read. Modify these stories to slip in your message instead of hitting people over the head with it.

Opportunities to Tell Stories Present Themselves

Stories proved their value to me when I spent time with my Mother during the last year of her life. She was constantly in and out of hospital and rehabilitation facilities. We were together so much that often the only thing I could think to say was to recall family stories from the past. I realized that the best way to communicate feelings and deep thoughts was through these stories.

Stories are also a useful teaching tool with my two teenage sons. I can no longer use the direct technique with them, and just say “stop doing that or you can’t watch TV!” That approach is a dead end. It would just result in an argument and hard feelings.

If I really want to mold their behavior, I talk to them when they are relaxed, like in the car, and I tell them an interesting story (at least to me) from my past experience that reflects some point that I want to make. Sometimes I wonder if my boys are really paying attention to my “rambling reminisces.” But, when they later ask me for more details about a story that I have told, I realize that maybe my story has struck a chord with them.

Stories Are More Persuasive Than Logic

At a meeting of newspaper editors, where he felt out of place, Lincoln used this story. “I feel like I did once when I met a woman riding horseback in the woods, As I stopped to let her pass, she also stopped and looking at me intently, said, ‘I do believe you are the ugliest man I ever saw.’ Said I: ‘Madam, you are probably right, but I can’t help it.’

‘No, she said, ‘you can’t help it, but you might stay at home.’ ”

And magically, after hearing the story, the reporters who were strangers became Lincoln’s  friends.

Learn from Lincoln. Stop being so logical, fact filled and practical in your communications. Dig deeper, make people laugh, cry and think by wrapping it in a compelling story. Connect to people’s hearts by the stories you tell.

Recommended readings:

How To Have The Language Intelligence Of Abraham Lincoln: ‘The Greatest Thing By far Is To Be A Master Of Metaphor’ by Joe Romm at ClimateProgress

Mr. Sandburg, speak to us! by Bill Nash at Abe’s Log Cabin.

How Abraham Lincoln mastered the art of storytelling by John Sadowsky

Lesson From Abraham Lincoln On Becoming A Great Storyteller by Jay Oza

The Power of Overlooking an Offense at Kingdom People

John Y. Brown, III: Lincoln and the Power of Story at The Recovering Politician

Is a state pension enough to support you in retirement? at Reach Financial Independence

Does Volunteering And Charitable Giving Lead To Happier Employees And Higher Profits? at Untemplater

The grocery game challenge June 24-30, 2013 #4: Fruit and vegetable preparation at Canadian Budget Binder

Do You Sneak Snacks Into The Movies? at Eyes on the Dollar

Carbs Are Killing You [Infographic] at Fearless Men

 When to be Assertive | Stop getting walked on at Fearless Men
 Choosing the Best Blog Web Hosting Sites  at Modest Money

Reader Question: 100 Boxes. How Many Would You Open? at Planting Our Pennies

CREATIVE WAYS TO MAKE MONEY IN THE EVENING at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

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16 Responses to “What Mr. Lincoln Taught Me about the Power of Stories”

  1. Those are some great stories. I know I’m not a born orator, but I *hope* that my dry facts come across as at least a little relatable and relevant.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Reader Question: 100 Boxes. How Many Would You Open?My Profile

    • Terry says:

      I think our stories actually are received alot better than we imagine. Like when I tell my boys stories of my past adventures, what may seem like yesterday’s news to me can seem new and interesting to them.

  2. My wife and I are both the same but I often say she is nosier than I am. It’s not really being nosey, it’s asking questions. We love to hear stories from people of all ages so we ask questions to hear answers or their stories.

    I take the stories I hear and try to fill them into my blog posts so I can build on their story and create my own. I don’t always have a story or a lesson learned from someone else but when I do I like to pass that along to my fans.

    I enjoy reading posts that teach from example or lessons learned from others. I think the older I get the more I find myself talking to people and not being direct, rather using examples to explain my reasoning.

    I do the same thing at work and find that the team seems to grasp what I say because it’s not telling them what to do, rather sharing what I’ve done or learned or my experiences to motivate them to create their own. Great post mate.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..New Canadian ePassport is around the corner for CanadiansMy Profile

    • Terry says:

      I really like your technique of asking questions of people and then building on them and sharing them on your blog.

      As I get older, I too find that I like to initiate conversations with people that I come into contact through the day and find out what motivates them and what aspirations they have.

      Although at the time I talk to them, its just to have a conversation, but, like you, it sometimes also becomes fodder for future articles and books that I write.

  3. Terry, thanks for including my article. I love stories and agree that they’re a great means for communicating ones message. I wish I was better at it.
    John @ Fearless Men recently posted..Your Credit Rating: Understanding and Trying to Improve ItMy Profile

    • Terry says:

      I admit that I still have alot to learn when it comes to telling stories.

      One thing that has helped me is that I belong to a good Toastmaster’s club where I get to practice once a week, and I get to learn from watching other speakers who have some real talent and experience in story telling.

      In fact, this article on story telling is based on a Toastmasters speech that I am working on.

  4. Maybe to add, I think the reason stories are such powerful mediums of communication is because they paint vivid pictures in our minds and imagination and imprint on them the ideas being passed through. I believe its something as bloggers we should adopt once in a while in our writing instead of the point and bullet modes that has become almost a standard.
    Thanks also for including our article!
    simon @ Modest Money recently posted..To Rent or to Buy…?My Profile

    • Terry says:

      Well put.

      All too often, we try to persuade people with cold logic when the more persuasive tool, as Lincoln demonstrated, is the humble story.

  5. [...] – How Many Would You Open? caused some introspection and sharing by Fix Em Up Rent Em Out in What Mr. Lincoln Taught Me About the Power of Stories, and by Cash Rebel in What’s My Life [...]

  6. Untemplater says:

    My grandmother and dad are great at telling stories. Even though I’ve heard all of their stories more times than I can count, I never get bored listening.
    Untemplater recently posted..Top Paris Sights To See: J’adore Paris!My Profile

    • Terry says:

      I think that is the great challenge of all aspiring story tellers – the need to come up with fresh stories.

      We need to be keen observers of the things that happen to ourselves and to others, and file these memories away in the “future story” file.

  7. I wish more politicians could go back and try to be like Lincoln! Thanks for including me.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Financial Independence DayMy Profile

  8. [...] and Dad Money, I Heart Budgets, twice!  Fix Em Up Rent Em Out. Life and My Finances, The Dog Ate My Wallet, and Reach Financial [...]

  9. Jay Oza says:

    Terry,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog post about “Lesson from Abraham Lincoln on becoming a great storyteller.” I love studying Lincoln since he was always learning and he had this amazing ability to simplify things. He could do it so well because he knew how to connect with people, a skill he honed from childhood.

    I think you are an excellent storyteller and I enjoyed this post a lot and I will reference it my post.

    -Jay

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