“We’re all narcissists to some degree” — more from Dubner on stories


painting of Narcissus staring at his reflection by Caravaggio – scan, public domain

“We’re all narcissists to some degree,” Stephen J. Dubner said on the Tim Ferriss podcast I wrote about the other day. And that, he contends, is why we’re so attracted to stories. We subconsciously insert ourselves into the narrative.

I’ve heard the “inserting ourselves into the narrative” idea before. And certainly it fits with Dale Carnegie’s contention that the word each of us loves hearing most is the sound of our own name.

But “narcissists”? That’s a pretty specific word. It’s not just another adjective to me, it’s a pathology. And I’d rather not pathologize my audience.

Narcissists is a dumb keyword

Having chosen “narcissists” as my keyword—seriously, how many times can I choose the word “stories”?—the Gods of SEO require me to use it in a subhead. But really I’m finished discussing that part of Dubner’s interview. I’d much rather get to the part I agree with.

“I’ve always loved storytelling. I would argue that most people love storytelling even if they don’t really think about it.”

Most people love storytelling, even if they don’t think about it. Everyone tells stories. Okay, almost everyone. I’ll exempt the podcast guest I heard recently who answered every question with a bemused, “Yes.” Or, “Absolutely.” The interview turned out to be fascinating anyway, but only because the host told some great stories.

Everyone tells stories in what we laughingly call “real life.” But stand behind a lectern or face a blank computer screen and many people turn into that podcast guest—hiding their expertise and their personality behind a series of bland statements.

You have to be a little bit of a narcissist to tell stories (okay, apparently I wasn’t finished with the word). So figure out what’s unique about yourself and tell that story. Not with the intention of aggrandizing yourself—tell it to create change in the audience, to allow them to step outside of themselves and see the world through your eyes. You’re the only person who can do that for them.

Seeing the world through your eyes—that’s another way of saying, inserting themselves in your narrative, isn’t it?

Dubner and I agree on the affect storytelling has on an audience. We just disagree on what to call it.

Want to tell stories more effectively? My e-book What’s the Story? can help.

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