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Abraham Lincoln, the Storyteller

I took our Girl Scouts troop to Greenfield Village last weekend and one of my favorite places we went into was the Logan County Court House. Built in 1840 in Postville (now Lincoln), Illinois, this building was where Lincoln tried cases as a traveling lawyer. Between 1840 and 1847, he visited once or twice a year, working mostly on cases resolving neighbors’ disagreements over land, contracts and debts.

Abraham Lincoln had the reputation for honesty, thus nicknamed “Honest Abe.” When he was a young clerk, whenever he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies, he would close the shop and deliver the correct change regardless of how far he had to walk. And he had once walked out on a client who had lied to him.

What I didn’t know, and the curator passionately informed us, was that Lincoln was a great storyteller. He learned the art of storytelling at a young age, despite his father’s illiteracy and discouragement of books and learning. Lincoln could tell stories about anything, and he used this gift as a tool to illustrate the idea he wanted to convey. He sprinkled his stories with genuine humor and cleverness and he valued other peoples’ stories as well.

The art of storytelling helped Lincoln win cases and later earned him votes when he went into politics. As he traveled, people got to know him because he took time to talk to them.

Our lives are surrounded by stories, some inspiring and empowering, others cunning and harmful. Last year, a con-artist was arrested for masterminding an email scam cartel that swindled over $60 million from victims around the world. Similarly to how we choose the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the activities we participate in throughout the day, it is important that we pay attention to the stories that we allow to run our lives.

If you have played the role of a victim or caregiver, stuck in the Cinderella or middle child complex, you want to find a way to break that pattern. Otherwise, you’ll continue to experience the same story again and again – like Bill Murray in Grounds Hog Day (watch this movie if you haven’t done so already).

It takes time to break old patterns and replace them with new ones. For me, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and actions on paper – using a pen, not a keyboard – has helped me transform my story. I give this mental exercise as much time and consideration as I do attending my yoga classes, cooking a healthy meal, and meditating – not only because I’m a writer but because I care about the continuous development of my self-discovery.

Consider this exercise: spend a few hours this weekend alone at a bookstore, café, your front porch, bedroom, or some hidden lovely spot where no one can find you. Sit down, relax, and look at an issue that is currently nudging at you, wanting you to pay attention to it. Ask yourself, how did I get here? And then write your heart out. Be real in this process and don’t use up all the paper space blaming others. Most importantly, always remember to enjoy the journey.

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