What makes any story, especially one that’s true, hilarious, heartbreaking or horrible?

What matters more in the determination: the content or the context?

Before you answer, I offer three short stories for your consideration. All are true. With each one, decide if it’s hilarious, heartbreaking or horrible.

Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat
In the early half of the twentieth century, some teenaged boys in rural Georgia were looking for a way to amuse themselves. They began with a wild idea to trap a bobcat in an old suitcase. (How they accomplished that feat is another story!) Next, they all piled in a truck with the cat in the case and waited on a country road until another vehicle appeared.

When the people in the approaching vehicle were close enough to witness the act, one of the boys deposited the suitcase on the roadside. The boys then continued down the road in their truck. They were a safe distance away but maintained a good vantage point to see if the plot would unfold as they’d anticipated.

Would curiosity compel the travelers to take the bait?

It did! The driver of the other car stopped long enough for a passenger to grab the suitcase. Seconds later, they came to an abrupt halt. All the doors swung open, screaming humans fell out of the car as if their lives depended on it, and one angry bobcat escaped into the woods.

Laughing heartily as they sped away in a cloud of dust, the teens congratulated themselves for staging such an entertaining, action-packed matinee.

Now, you decide:
a)    Is it hilarious?
b)    Is it heartbreaking?
c)    Is it horrible?

Monkeying Around
Stationed in a remote African village, an American missionary couple had the opportunity to teach their children not to take food for granted. They had plenty to eat, but some of their favorite staples from home were luxuries in their host country. Butter, for instance, was in short supply, so slathering a glob on one’s personal slice of bread would have been selfish.

Visiting emissaries weren’t always aware of the sacrifices. Likewise, the parents, gracious hosts that they were, would never have told a guest not to take so much. The wide-eyed children, therefore, had no option but to sit quietly at the table as oblivious outsiders indulged themselves.

The son, finally fed up from watching seemingly greedy guests devour more than a fair portion, took it upon himself to inform the company, before they sat down to eat, that the roast his mom had prepared for dinner was monkey meat. Yes, the indigenous people consumed it, but no part of an ape ever appeared on his mother’s table!

Unfortunately, his plan backfired, as the visitors, who wanted to verify just what was on the menu, told on the boy!

Decades later, the story has remained a great source of amusement for the family.

Now, you decide:
a)    Is it hilarious?
b)    Is it heartbreaking?
c)    Is it horrible?

Heaven Can Wait
Beloved by many, especially her husband and three young children, a woman had undergone cancer treatment with optimistic results.

About two years after the initial diagnosis, follow-up imaging posed a question for the primary oncologist, who needed a few days to consult with other specialists. Worried but seeking comfort in her faith, the patient was at church during the short but intense waiting period, when she spotted a deacon—an older gentleman whom she respected. Since he was standing by himself, she decided to confide her health concerns to him and ask if he’d pray for her.

The deacon’s response reminded her that his son had recently died. “Oh, when you get to Heaven,” he blurted, “would you tell Joe that I love him?”

Translation: It sounds like you’re not going to make it. Since you’ll be in Heaven sooner than I’ll get there (because even though I’m old enough to be your father, I’m in much better health), please find my son and give him my message.

Momentarily speechless, she went from being stunned that this faithful man had pegged her for dead, to feeling terrible that she’d reminded him of his son’s passing, to finding the humor in it all. The deacon, in turn, went from being hopeful that this faithful, dying woman would soon have the opportunity to pass along a message to his son, to feeling horrified that he’d pegged her for dead, to catching the humor when she began to giggle.

After the two had a good laugh together, the deacon gathered a little group to pray for her. That same week, she received a free-and-clear diagnosis.

Now, you decide:
a)    Is it hilarious?
b)    Is it heartbreaking?
c)    Is it horrible?

Content vs. Context
In some cases, the content alone influences a person’s take on a story. Other times, factors that give context to the words more heavily sway the individual's interpretation:
·      Personal thoughts about the story’s character(s)
·      Personal thoughts about the individual who relays the story
·      Manner in which the storyteller describes characters and events, such with laughter, through tears, or in anger
·      Reactions from other people, coupled with how well they are respected, disliked, etc.

My Take
I heard the stories from friends who either played a role or had a loved one in the cast of characters. All three conveyed their own amusement in their storytelling, so I wholeheartedly caught the humor and laughed with them.

Humor is quirky. Good people who otherwise get along don't always laugh at the same things. We can always agree to disagree and move on. 

Getting stuck in a rut of feeling offended is a sad waste of time!

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at WriteLady.com.