Tell me a nice story, please

I’m fed up of hearing bad stories, I really am. Often it feels like every person I know simply revels in the misfortune or missteps of others, and it is beginning to truly annoy me.

I can’t work out if it is the result of malicious envy, angry spitefulness or just a sad realisation that those stories seem to engage others more easily. That said I don’t believe the reason matters, it is wrong and it needs to stop.

You cannot strengthen one by weakening another; and you cannot add to the stature of a dwarf by cutting off the leg of a giant

—Benjamin Franklin Fairless

In examples

Hmm, this is hard. How does one express examples without explicitly re-telling the nasty stories?

The stories you are about to hear are true. The scenes have been munged to protect the innocent.

Exhibit A

About five years ago I found out that an old school friend had made a serious, yet possibly singular, morally irresponsible mistake. This is a man who was close to the top of his chosen career tree, with a string of impressive achievements to his name.

The thing that bugged me about it, and to this day it is still does, is that I’d never heard anyone remark on his successes prior to this. I was entirely unaware of how his life had turned out prior to this story, and I was completely unaware of any of the success he had made for himself.

However, the moment there is a tale with the sprinkled essence of schadenfreude it felt like you couldn’t go a week without being told about it. People would post about it on social-network-du-jour, drop it in to unrelated conversations and literally stop you in the street to tell you.

Why couldn’t I have heard a fantastic story about an old friend’s success when trying to feed my shocking biscuit habit at Sainsbury’s?

Exhibit B

In the mid-naughties a conference friend sold his web service for an apparently healthy chunk of change. I remember bumping in to the founding team at a boring conference and listening to their happiness at the outcome. They were looking forward to working on the service itself more, and removing some of the day-to-day woes of running the business on fumes. All seemed good.

That same day we, along with a bunch of ten or so others, headed off for lunch. We got to hear some interesting war stories, and some fun tales of moments when they were writing their “service suicide” notes. The end of the lunch arrives, and they decided to pick up the whole tab. An absolutely unnecessary gesture given that most, if not all, of us were expensed for the day anyway. They did it simply because they’re nice guys.

As we started to break up and head back I noticed a few people were now telling other stories. Some had heard that the specific amount of money wasn’t worth the grief, others expressed doubts the site would live on post acquisition, etc.

I hadn’t realised initially, but this change in tone appeared to happen almost the moment the founders left. Friends who had found success, regaled us with their stories and kindly paid for our semi-liquid lunch were suddenly being beaten down for their apparent success.

Why can’t people just find some happiness in the happiness of others?

What to do

I’m not perfect, well not quite anyway ;)

If I wasn’t so terribly, terribly ill today I’d be preparing to head to our Winterval shutdown party. You’d no doubt find I like to have a little gossip and moan about things I shouldn’t, and I might even commit a couple of the faux pas I’ve mentioned above. Yes, that upsets me. It really does, but I’m trying to change.

A pledge

If you catch me using the failure of others for entertainment or to make a point, feel free to berate me for it. It might even be time to start offering fantastic prizes1 to people who catch me doing so, as it is probably the only way I’ll really learn.

What I want to hear

Simply tell me about that friend who is getting married, don’t tell the story by mentioning that it is their third marriage. I also don’t need to hear about that messy relationship breakdown. [The exception — of course — being if it is that one girl who I’d sell my soul for a second chance with]

Tell me about that friend whose child aced the Eleven Plus, and has been accepted in to the school we all wish we had attended.

Tell me about that old school friend who is building their own Grand Designs-esque house.

I guess there is one reason I want to hear the bad stories, and it is very simple. Iff there is some actionable thing I can do to help, then I want to know about it. If that isn’t the case, just keep it to yourself.



Okay, probably just a coffee or a beer