I happen to love fairy tales and fables, stories with happy endings and those that offer a valuable lesson. Sometimes, you are lucky and get both in the same story.
Sometimes, however, you only get one or the other. And at other times, you get fairy tales or fables when you are supposed to be getting the real story.
The trick comes in knowing what kind of story you are getting and judging the storyteller. That’s a big part of my job, and one of the hardest aspects of being a journalist.
Most of us like to see the good in people and give them the benefit of the doubt when they tell us things. I am no different. But, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing these stories without some type of verification. That’s why one of the first rules reporters are taught is to get your information from more than one source.
It’s also the reason why when people call us with tales they believe need to be told, they don’t always materialize in the paper. It can be a case of she said versus he said. Each may believe his or her tale to be the whole truth, but it could just be that person’s version of the way things are.
When it comes time to determine who bends the truth a bit, I am fairly good at seeing the holes in people’s stories — especially when those doing the bending are my kids. I have come to learn their “tells,” and can sense when one or both is being a little less than honest most of the time.
Usually my instincts are good at determining who is telling the truth and when I need to wear boots to wade through the muck.
But that’s not always the case. If only the real world could be a little bit more like that Geico commercial featuring Pinocchio as a motivational speaker. His nose grew each time he pointed out a person with great potential. Wouldn’t it be nice to have such an obvious indicator of who was being a little less than truthful?
I recall a situation years ago when I visited the shop of a custom car builder. He was a “ghost builder” and made creations for a better-known designer of unique automobiles for films and television.
At the time, the Hollywood designer was keeping his ghost a secret and he was quite upset when I told the story of the other builder.
In that case, I knew the story was true as I was personally in the shop and saw the vehicles in question.
Sometimes, half-truths are presented or stories get twisted along the way from one person to another. And sometimes, there are just simple misunderstandings.
Take the old game of Telephone. A story would be passed from person to person, with the details often changing so much from the first version to the last that it was barely recognizable. Surely, each person telling or hearing his or her version would swear it was the truth, when in fact it had been slightly altered by that person’s memory.
Today, that game is played out in various forums, particularly social media, where stories spread with the simple click of a mouse.
Just recently I was alarmed by a story I saw about the potential fatal dangers of feeding your dog ice. I was nearly frantic because my dog loves ice cubes. If I had just stopped for a second to think things through rationally, it would have been clear that ice cubes couldn’t create the types of problems mentioned in the story because they melt so quickly.
Fortunately, there are websites such as Snopes where you can check on the authenticity of those types of stories.
It used to be easy to tell who was right and who was wrong. The good guys wore white hats and the bad guys were dressed in black. You could never trust a snake oil salesman, politician or lawyer.
Even fairy tales were easy to decipher. Handsome princes and beautiful princesses would always prevail over evil, ugly ogres. But then again… anyone remember a fellow by the name of Shrek?