If, like me, as you watched Brexit and the US election, disbelief became disappointment bordering on despair, then you may be feeling disempowered right now.
The wrong side won. Bad things are going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it except protect yourself and those you love and wait for sanity to return.
I believe that that response has been engineered. It is the story that those who won, want those of us who oppose them to believe.
The first step to stopping them is to recognise that this is a story and not the truth.
The second step is to change the story.
Salman Rushdie said:
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives—the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change—truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”
I want to encourage you to take power by learning to change the story to one that you believe in and that other people will want to believe in.
Brexit and the Trump election campaign moved us into a “post-fact” world, where a good story is more important than a factual analysis. It showed us that the willingness of people to vote for a story that they would like to be true, regardless of how credible it is, overwhelms rational argument.
What I take away from this is that those of us who oppose the kind of world that Trump or Farage promote, have to master the art of storytelling.
It is no longer enough to have good intentions, supported by strong analysis and a viable plan. To get a chance to put that plan into action we need a good story.
I earn my living through storytelling on behalf of large organizations who are trying to drive complex changes in their business models and organization. To use the jargon, I design and the meta-narrative that will be used to drive complex change. They pay me for this stuff because it works. There’s even a popular-science view of why it works.
I believe we can also make storytelling work in the fight against Trump and Farage and all the others who are using storytelling to lead us into a selfish, misogynistic, racist, world of anger and violence.
Let me share with you some of the commonplace statements about storytelling that are used in the commercial world:
“If you want to learn about a culture, listen to its stories. If you want to change the culture, change the stories”
“Stories form collective agreements about reality.”
“Only when people can locate themselves inside the story will they truly belong and participate in your narrative.”
“There’s no greater feeling than being the hero in your own story.”
“Storytelling empowers, because it escapes the need to claim absolute truth. It is about emotions not facts”.
“A story links a remembered (not necessarily real) past to a perceived (not necessarily accurate) view of the present to a desirable future (where we get to be the heroes of our own story).”
“Ideas need to be felt to be heard. Through stories we can envisage change”
When we tell our stories, they should be personal and passionate. They should start not with a “how” or a “what” but a “why”. Why are we so passionate about not living in the world Trump draws?
Ken Loach’s, “I, Daniel Blake” is an example of this kind of why. Why should we be kinder and more inclusive? Because treating people they way they are treated in this film robs all of us of dignity and offends against basic human compassion.
We need to tell stories that voters can find themselves in. We have to start with what voters desire, not with what we think is good for them.We have to show them how a plan will make things better on a day to day basis. We have to acknowledge their fears, dispel them where we can and encourage them to be brave when we can’t. We have to find a way to enable them to be the heroes of their own stories.
Trump and Farage’s stories are based on fear and hate. They promote division. They make “Us” better by making “Them” less than human. They seek to blame. When we tell their stories to ourselves we diminish ourselves. We become angrier, less kind, more selfish.
We need to tell stories that give hope and demonstrate what love can achieve. We need to promote ways of recognising how like “Us” “They” are. We need to make the kind and the brave into heroes. When we tell ourselves those stories, we see the possibility to be better versions of ourselves. We become more hopeful, we laugh more and we love more.
You all have stories to tell. Frame them. Tell them well. Pass them on. Seek out stories from others and pass them on.
Don’t just say no to Trump and Farage. Tell stories that will make people deaf to the lies they tell.
Change the story. Change the culture. Win back the hearts of the people around you.