The Stories We Tell

A couple of weeks ago a man told a story to a friend of mine. It was an odd story. He said that he was responsible for a series of anonymous markers, distributed around his hometown each one heralding a forgotten historical event that he believed should be remembered.

Why did he tell her this story? Why did he reveal his secret to a woman he barely knew? You guessed it. He wanted her to find him intriguing. Perhaps he didn’t think she found him physically attractive? Perhaps he just wanted an edge—in marketing terminology a unique selling proposition (USP)—so she would find him interesting.

He made a point of telling her that the anonymous nature of his campaign had already caused a stir in the local press. Town residents, local government officials, and the media wanted to know who was responsible. He was proud of what he was doing and proud that he was doing it without credit. Well, not exactly without credit, since he was claiming credit in his conversation with her.

The story intrigued me. It got me thinking about the lengths we go to attract attention. Often it’s romantic attention, but we also want general popularity—in the office or any other organization. Dressing well, or in a particular style, draws attention. Other modus operandi include: a dramatic hairstyle, cultivating an eccentric manner, maintaining a fabulous accent, discussing a passionate hobby or collection, dancing barefoot, bringing homemade pastries wherever you go, etc. I’ve seen all sorts of strategies to distinguish an individual from the crowd.

The man’s story—the story he hoped would fascinate my friend—was an extreme measure. Yes, I’ve already drafted a story inspired by the idea, but I’m still mulling this need to dissemble, for people—and characters in fiction—to dress up their truth with fantasy versions of themselves.

Are we the stories we tell?

The characters in Rembrandt's painting The Nightwatch in statue form. What stories did THEY tell?

The characters in Rembrandt’s painting ‘The Nightwatch’ in statue form. What stories did THEY tell?


  1. Basic insecurity?

    I’ve seen so many people become almost aggressively ‘forward’ because they have a deep uncertainty about their own worth. Those who are confident of their abilities/worth are usually the ones who say the least [about themselves].

    However we behave, however, I believe we’re all driven by the need to be valued. Love, respect, admiration, they’re all simply ways in which others express the value they place on us. And we all crave it. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      And the range of responses, the range of choices and the lies are fascinating. I find myself making up little things when I’m chatting with sales clerks. Just nonsense like what I’m likely to serve with the wine I’m buying. Do they need to know that I’m eating leftovers from last night’s take out humus? No, but why did I say I was cooking that night? Because it makes the wine purchase seem more specific, more special and not ordinary. I’m entertaining myself and them. Am I enhancing my status? Maybe. Maybe the next time I shop at that store, they will remember that I was a nice, friendly person.

      This, of course, brings me to people for whom lies are nefarious strategies to gain advantage… Combine that with the deep uncertainty of self worth that you describe and you have a KILLER in a story and, unfortunately, in life too.