Great Storytellers: Abraham Lincoln

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We went to see the movie, Lincoln, last week. I think it has “Oscar” written all over it, but I’m no movie critic.

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Lincoln, and I read numerous books about him. I definitely enjoyed social studies more around President’s Day, when we created cutouts of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Washington out of black construction paper.

From a communications and influencer perspective, I have an even greater respect for the man. He quite effectively used words and stories to get his way. Stories and humor helped him deal with stress and depression, interject humor when things got dark, illuminate his meaning and make a point clearer.

Good stories work because they put abstract ideas into a concrete framework, allowing the people you need to persuade to visualize outcomes and get a sense of the emotional impact. It’s not always easy to do. Most storytellers have a well from which they draw, often using the same parables again and again (we see a lot of this on the campaign trail).

This is common among storytellers. We practice and we hone, until we have precisely the right story that can have the impact that we intended. With each telling, we refine the plot, embellish the characters, become clearer about what it all means and how it relates to the issue at hand.

The movie illustrates Lincoln’s ability to sway opinion by using stories, something that Louis P. Masur described in the New York Times several months ago:

Lincoln shrewdly used stories and parables in more complex ways as well. They would disarm opponents, or offer an easily digestible truism that seemed to support whatever position he might be taking.

What I also learned from the movie was that he was a shrewd politician, willing to compromise his own values for a larger good. In doing so, he saved a nation.

Go see Lincoln. I highly recommend.

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