Monday, February 21, 2011

What People Think

It’s normal for people to care what other people think about them. If people didn’t, some people would show up to work in their bathrobes or even less. If we find someone who truly doesn’t care what other people think, we generally think that person is insane. And yet, people go through life wishing they didn’t care what other people think about them. We want people to be impressed with us in various ways, but we hate that we are hindered from doing things we believe we should be doing because we’re afraid of what people will think. A classic example is sharing the gospel. We have this idea that we should find a way to share the gospel with everyone we meet, but we don’t do that. In many cases, this is because we are fearful of what they will think of us when we do.

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t worry about that, but the reality is that we do. It is similar to what I experienced in high school when we were required to get up in front of the class to give speeches. You would think that a teacher, whose job requires her to know how to give presentations, would be able to tell her students how to give a speech. Somehow, that didn’t get communicated to me very well. We spent a lot of time preparing note cards. I didn’t trust myself to remember what I wanted to say, so my note cards tended to be a deck of cards with the whole speech written out on it. Some preachers preach that way. They will write out their sermon and then either read it or recite it. These days, Presidents give speeches that way. When is the last time you watched a State of the Union Address where the President wasn’t reading the teleprompter?

Wouldn’t it be fun to go back to high school and redo those speeches? Perhaps not, but I know I would do a lot better at those speeches now than I did then. My approach to public speaking is completely different now than it was then. Back then, I was so afraid that I would mess up and forget what I was going to say that it paralyzed me. I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself, and the teachers didn’t seem to know how to teach us how to get past that. These days, my notes are much shorter than they were then.

When I prepare a speech or a lesson, the first thing I do is ask myself what the audience needs to know and how I can communicate it to them. This is quite a contrast to when my biggest concern was how I could make myself look like a great speaker. Sitting at my computer, I develop an outline of the points I want to get across. This serves a twofold purpose. One, it gives me a memory aid for when I am speaking. Two, it forces me to work through all of the points I want to cover. But unlike in high school when I nervously read the points I wanted to make from each note card, these days, I find that I hardly look at my notes during a speech. By paying attention to the needs of the audience and relying on those things that are clear in the mind, it is much easier to put aside thoughts of what people will think and focus on what is important.

How do you get past the fear of what people think of you?

Retellings and Continuations

I had an epiphany the other day. Occasionally I do. The topic was retelling fairy tales. Moreso, it had to do with continuing an existing story like Cinderella. The discussion had to do with people not liking how a continuation of the story of Cinderella had turned out. In this particular story, Cinderella didn’t live happily ever after, but instead turned into a self-centered adulteress who wasn’t happy with the prince but wanted some other guy. Of course, the first thing we think of when we think of that is that Cinderella wouldn’t be like that. She isn’t that type of girl It messes with the archetype.

But consider that there are hundreds of Cinderella retellings out there. I know of one in which they turned the story around. Instead of Cinderella having humble beginnings and attending the ball to meet the prince, the Cinderella character was wealthy and was magically forced to become a servant and only regained her position after learned to be humble. No one objected to that story because it wasn’t true to the original, but rather they rejoiced in its diversity.

There is a huge difference between retelling a story and continuing a story. If we say we are going to continue a story, readers expect us to pick up where the other story left off. With a story like Cinderella, that can be particularly difficult because there are so many different versions. The best we can do is to stick to those things that are common to most of the stories that people remember. I doubt people will get upset with you if you retell it with a wooden shoe instead of a glass slipper, since we’ve seen both in the stories. But Cinderella is always humble and submissive. If we make her something else in a continuation, people will decry our character as not being a true Cinderella.

Suppose however that we begin with a retelling. In this retelling, Cinderella isn’t humble and submissive. Instead of just taking it, she dishes back what she receives from her step family. We instantly know that this isn’t the traditional Cinderella, so when we change the story to fit the character our audience isn’t surprised. We can’t have her helped in the same way as in the typical Cinderella tale because it doesn’t fit the character. We might instead have her give the prince a love potion that makes him fall for her.

Once we have established this new story, we can go into the continuation of this new story. If in the continuation Cinderella turns out to be an awful person, people might cheer when she fails, but they won’t be upset about the character making such a drastic change without explanation.

I don’t really like continuations anyway. The problem is that the most important thing that happened in the character’s life happened in the first story, so whatever we throw at them in the second will be less important or we will have to manufacture something that doesn’t really fit.

What about you? Do you prefer retellings or continuations?