Stories for Change: Creating a Narrative that Matters

By Davie Philip – Published in Positive Life  Winter Issue 2015

We are hardwired to create and share stories; that is how we learn and is what shapes our identity. An authentic and well-told story helps us re-imagine our lives, gives us hope and offers us a sense of what could be possible. If we want to have more influence in shaping a better world, storytelling is a crucial skill to master.

A great majority of the stories we are exposed to appeal to values associated with consumption, status and our self-image. Transformational stories need to engage people’s ‘intrinsic’ or non-materialistic values, rather than ‘extrinsic’ or materialistic ones. When the stories we hear appeal to extrinsic values we are far less likely to be concerned about the environment or have empathy for others.

Generally what is deemed to be newsworthy these days is anxiety inducing or cultivates self-doubt and apathy. Headlines of crime, terrorism and celebrity scandals dominate, and rarely challenge the economic and social status quo.  This narrative of negativity along with the increasing amount of advertising we are exposed to keeps us shopping, disconnected from each other and unmotivated to engage in positive change

We are told that to meet the targets required to avoid catastrophic global warming we must begin to consume less. Unfortunately the dominant cultural narrative encourages us – over and over again – to do exactly the opposite. However making people feel guilty about their lifestyle will not make them change it, and research has shown that threats often used in communicating environmental or health matters can instead lead to denial and cause resistance to change.

At a conference recently Mary Robinson demanded that we take the climate change issue personally asking: “What can you do to make the transition to a low-carbon future?” We definitely need to hear more compelling personal stories to inspire us to transform our lives and the places we live. At the Electric Picnic this year I hosted a panel discussion on the topic of culture change. One of the panelists, a former researcher at a national radio station, remarked that when she pitched stories like these they were deemed ‘too worthy’.

Sustainability issues need urgent responses, and although there are many great examples of inspirational community led initiatives helping their local areas flourish, we are just not hearing about them. It is surprising how little is known about Transition initiatives, eco-villages, permaculture and other grassroots projects that are prototyping a different future. Communities that have been successful in developing local energy or food projects, strengthening their resilience or reducing their carbon footprint are an important source of learning and we need to hear their stories.

Can we find new ways of telling and sharing stories of change? Initiatives like Creative Islanders, Change X and Get Involved are all providing platforms that do this. Social media makes it easy, but we really need get out from behind our screens and live the story, co-creating a narrative that matters with those around us.

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