I tell people to tell stories a lot. I know. It's my clarion call.
But allow me to say it again.
Last Wednesday night, I performed in The Moth GrandSLAM at the Cutler Majestic in Boston. My plan was to take the stage and tell a story that was a lot more humor than heart. It was a story about meeting my girlfriend's father for the first time and trying desperately to bridge the gap between his traditional, hulking masculinity and my inability to do anything traditionally masculine.
"He's the kind of guy who can take down trees, and if necessary, put it back up again. I play Miss Pacman on Friday nights at the arcade and read Shel Silverstein poetry."
A funny story, filled with amusing contrasts and healthy doses of self-deprecation, but not something that pulled at heartstrings.
I honestly didn't think it would be a winning story.
Then something amazing happened. It shouldn't have seemed amazing in retrospect, since these things happen all the time, but I still find myself surprised every time.
Three young men approached me at different times during intermission and at the end of the show to tell me how much my story had meant to them. In each case, these were men who struggled in environments where traditional masculinity is prized above all other things. Each young man described himself as someone who did not represent traditional masculinity in any way and often felt unappreciated and even unloved as a result.
Each of these men were so grateful for my story. One of them was teary-eyed as he spoke to me. All three hugged me before stepping away.
This is why we tell stories. This is why authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability are so important. I take a stage planning on telling an amusing story about soft hands that can't change the oil in a car or repair plumbing, and I unexpectedly touch the hearts of at least three people in the audience that night.
I tell a story that, in the words of one man, "means more to me than you'll ever know."
"I needed this more than you could imagine," he told me.
You never know who is waiting for your story. You never know who needs your story. You never know when something amusing or incidental or seemingly benign will touch a heart, change a mind, and perhaps make a real difference in the life of a human being.
We tell our stories for many reasons, but perhaps the least selfish reason of all is the possibility that something we say might make a difference in the life of another human being.