FBI Special Agent Barry Lee Bush was shot and killed while pursuing a group of suspected bank robbers in New Jersey on April 5, 2007.

You can read the full story here.

What fascinated me was the quote from Bush’s former supervisor that the reporter chose to use to describe the man:

“He had the demeanor of the type of guy that would be an FBI agent.”

In effect, this quote says:

“He was an FBI agent.  And he even acted like one!”

We are not just in the business of burying the dead.  Funeral services are about telling a life story.  And just like the world of storytellers, some are really good and some are bad.

Audience Still

The next time you’re tempted to state the obvious when “telling” a life story, look for another angle.  The article ends with a note that Bush is survived by a wife and two children.  Could there be an aspect of this hard-nose FBI agent that was softened by his two children?  Did he have interesting hobbies?

Stereotypes work well in the big, bad, rough and tumble world where we need quick information to size up a situation.  We see a guy who looks like an FBI agent and we can figure out how he’ll probably react.

What we don’t see is the wife and kids at home, the wordworking tools in his garage, the love of Bluegrass music or the private pain he experienced when his brother died of Lukemia.

And while none of those things necessarily reflect Special Agent Bush (I made them up, to prove a point here), details like them help to humanize the subject of the “story.”

Kim Jong-il is the leader of North Korea.  He also happens to be a dictator.  Sounds like a cut and dry case, right?

But Kim Jong-il is also an avid fan of music and film.  He’s produced his own films (going so far as to kidnap a prominent South Korean film director and his wife to help launch his film industry), written operas and choreographed musicals.  He’s also reportedly afraid to fly.

Now, those facts do little to excuse his behavior, or the human rights abuses he’s accused of, but they do paint a much fuller picture of a man most would simply label a “dictator.”

We are storytellers.  The stories we tell have to be interesting and engaging.  Otherwise, we’d be better off handling just the disposition and letting others handle the hard parts.