Short stories from the real world

Some snapshots that we could all learn from

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

All of history’s best teachers and leaders were story-tellers. The best of them, the most memorable by far, did not focus on rules or precepts to follow – they told stories that still, a thousand or more years later, resonate, challenge, even baffle us.

Those prophets and visionaries and their stories still emerge and inspire us – if we will listen.

My daughter tells me that I have a story about everything. That is probably true.

Here are a few stories and situations I’ve recently encountered.


Have you noticed how many massive trucks you see on the road and in parking lots lately?

I don’t mean working trucks or semis, but what could only be considered vanity or even, ahem, compensation trucks that, like sports cars once upon a time, are the symptom of a mid-life crisis or a masculinity in doubt.

Expensive (and often violent) man-toys are often an expression of fear and insecurity.

As much as some might crave them, size and noise (or destructive power) will never be enough.

True adulthood is in knowing that enough is enough – with no need to prove anything to anyone.

The writers Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five) and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) were once invited to a glamorous party outside New York City.

Standing in the palatial second home of the billionaire host, Vonnegut began to needle his friend. “Joe,” he said, “how does it feel that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel has earned in its entire history?”

“I’ve got something he can never have,” Heller replied. “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Sometimes those homes with vast, cavernous spaces convey their emptiness more than anything else.

You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.

“You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it” is an old saying in the US Army.

But if there was ever a first principle of success in any setting, that would be it.

It is also the guiding principle of being an adult.

Life is full of things we’d rather not do.

The ultimate irony, though, is that, like wine or many foods, life and work, and relationships and community engagement, among many other things, are acquired tastes – we have to learn to like them.

And like a fine wine, or an unappealing vegetable, we must deliberately cultivate a taste for them.

We may not like wine, or modern art, or poetry or certain categories of music at first, but if we look closely, we just might find that it speaks to us, and appeals to us, maybe even heals us, like nothing else.

Your work is the only thing that matters

An aspiring comedian approached Jerry Seinfeld in a club one night and asked him for advice about marketing and getting exposure.

“Exposure? Marketing?” Seinfeld asks.

Seinfeld, a comedian’s comedian, is appalled by the question. It’s offensive to his legendary heads-down, do-it-until-it-works work ethic.

But to the kid, this was a surprise. “Isn’t that the kind of question you’re supposed to ask? Isn’t that how you get ahead?”

“Just work on your act,” Seinfeld said.

As one young person put it to me recently, sometimes life is like a basketball game; you shoot until you make a basket. In short, master your craft. Everything else will follow.

Book-burners are never on the right side of history

Books are, by definition, full of stories.

And, history is dense with legends of stories – and story-tellers – banned, censored and black-listed, with the authors fired, ostracized or even crucified for their stories.

Even the reading of certain books – or sometimes even literacy itself – is a challenge to a tottering status quo (a healthy society will always welcome universal literacy and free inquiry).

There was a time in America when it was illegal to teach slaves to read. In a twisted use of logic, those laws made sense; nothing is more of a threat to tyranny and injustice than access to the written word.

There is a reason that every totalitarian regime from the national level to the smallest town, has burned and banned books. Knowledge is power. And literacy is the ultimate freedom.

Words that we read, or the stories we ourselves have written, have power and influences far beyond our borders and years.

And, in a near textbook perfect example of not learning from history, the more some may rail against a particular book or author, the more they lock their names and their work in the history books.

There are no small parts, only small actors- Stanislavski

In life, and work, and relationships and certainly acting, there are no small parts – only small actors.

We’ve all worked with those people. They may show up for work, but have no interest, no commitment, no connection, no sense of purpose or identity – in essence, they were spectators more than they were actors.

And we’ve also known, or at least heard of those with, on paper at least, a small “part” but who, with their passion, stir us and leave an unforgettable mark on our lives.

It’s only a disaster if…

At the age of sixty-seven, Thomas Edison was eating dinner with his family when a man came rushing into his house with urgent news: a fire had broken out at Edison’s research and production campus a few miles away.

Fire engines from eight nearby towns rushed to the scene, but they could not contain the blaze.

Fueled by the strange chemicals in the various buildings, green and yellow flames shot up six and seven stories, threatening to destroy the empire Edison had spent his life building.

Edison calmly but quickly made his way to the fire, through the hundreds of onlookers and devastated employees.

Finding his son standing shell-shocked at the scene, Edison would utter these famous words: “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”

He could have had any response – he could have raged or despaired.

But he didn’t.

He told a reporter the next day that he wasn’t too old to make a fresh start: “I’ve been through a lot of things like this. It prevents a man from being afflicted with ennui.”

And as he knew, and some of us are learning, it is ennui more than anything else, that will destroy our careers and relationships. And everything else. Much more than any fire.

Be the solution, not the problem

As someone who has been on both sides of the job interview process, one thing stands out – the stakes are far higher for the one doing the hiring than for the one applying.

The one doing the hiring has a problem to solve – one that represents money and time – and the future of the business.

You can present yourself as a solution to a wide range of problems – or you can add to the dilemma – it’s up to you.

The one applying can walk out the door and never look back.

The one doing the hiring has, perhaps permanently, a set of problems to solve.

Solve the puzzle one piece at a time

It doesn’t matter if your puzzle is a kid’s version with 12 pieces or a thousand piece adult puzzle, it is put together the same way – one piece at a time.

Every machine or vehicle is just a series of interconnected parts that work together.

Every language is a finite number of letters, words and phrases that can be, and have been, mastered, one at a time. The best way to learn a language after all, is to do it the way children do – two or three words a day. That’s about a hundred words a month – over a thousand in a year.

Every journey, or career, or relationship, progresses one step at a time.

Any situation can be overwhelming when you look at the big picture, but broken into manageable chunks, it becomes do-able.

Never stop learning

You might stop officially attending school, but no matter how old you are, or what field you find yourself in, or what you find interesting/intriguing/baffling, the most important, enduring and transferable skill of all is the ability to keep learning.

That is the secret of success for every entrepreneur, inventor, researcher or parent – among many others.

There are no age or cost barriers to encountering and learning new things.

The best/worst news is that there is no end of things to learn.

Failure is not an option – it is a necessity.

If you don’t fail the first time you try something, you are obviously not trying hard enough.