My youngest brother, Spencer, is one of the most hilarious people I have ever met. His story telling skills are both admirable and occasionally a problem. At some point, he developed a line that my family and I now recognize as a red flag for get ready, this story is about to be wildly entertaining, but only partially accurate. It’s very hard to discern what actually happened from what didn’t. We know whenever he begins a story with “I was just standing there minding my own business when…” that we are in for a treat.
That tagline has evolved from being merely a story telling tool to being the method of choice for Spencer when he has bad news to share. I laugh every time I hear it. It was only as recent as this past June that I actually started to consider why he used it to preface whatever came next. It is his way of saying, “don’t shoot the messenger” and attempting to separate himself from the negativity of his message. Spencer was bringing to life advice shared in ancient literature without knowing a thing about ancient literature. I’m telling you, he is impressive.
“The nature of the bad news infects the teller”
In my own experience with delivering and receiving less than ideal news, the most common concern voiced is that the person on the receiving end will take out their anger on the deliveryman. It’s too easy. That person is instantly accessible, regardless of whether they played a role in the unwelcomed information. As a result, the most common assumption then is that somebody else will step up to be the bad guy. Me? The bad guy? No way, José! Here’s the thing though – that’s not a sure thing. How are you supposed to know if nobody is willing to tell you?
I started thinking about this idea several months ago after a conversation with a friend. And once I start thinking, well, a lot of time is lost to researching topics that otherwise have nothing to do with school or work. So I bring you…
The History of Shooting the Messenger: