If you’ve come across Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand (2017) – or work by anyone who’s been influenced by him – you’ll know that story and narrative are of vital importance to your business and marketing. Sales and branding are important, but in this post, I want to look at the importance of story more broadly and explore the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we live by in the context of the recent violence in Washington DC.
Humans rely on stories, not facts, to make sense of the world. When we encounter something (an event, an object, or a statement) that doesn’t fit into the story we live by, we reject it. For example, if you were raised to believe you can do anything you set your mind to, you’ll reject anyone who disagrees. By the same token, if you were raised to believe you are incapable of doing anything right, you’ll dismiss all successes and talents as flukes or freak accidents.
Stories govern our lives on a national scale, too. If you look at the major divisions in the US (Trumpism vs. the Democrats and others) and the UK (pro and anti Brexit) objectively – in so far as such a thing is possible – narrative discord explains why neither side can understand the other. This week, we saw this play out violently in the US.
Trump and his followers insist the US election was fraudulent and that Trump won ‘by a landslide’. The Democrats and others insist that Biden won in a free and fair election. Neither side can view the issue from the other’s perspective because the story they live by rejects all contradictions. (If you’re thinking, ‘but the facts are …’, take a moment to become aware of which story you’re living by.)
The flashpoint of the election has been a long time in the making – it started at least as early as the 1930s. In Out of the Wreckage (2017), George Monbiot looks at the history of this division, shows that neither side’s narrative can create the kind of peaceful, inclusive society so many long for, and argues for changing the story to one of belonging.
It’s all too easy to be paralysed in the face of the failures of large national narratives. We feel like we’re not big enough or significant enough to make a difference. Too often, this leads us to put our hopes on a larger/stronger figure. Staying with recent American history – Americans on the left wanted Obama to save the country and grew disillusioned when he couldn’t, those on the right expected the same of Trump, and we’re poised to repeat the pattern with Biden.
This cycle is doomed to repeat itself until enough of us learn that while we cannot make huge changes on the world stage, we can make significant changes to our own narrative and those of the people who are close to us.
As coaches and healers you know the value of changing the story you tell yourself. The entire coaching ethos is built on changing the script. This is why so many of us turn to guided meditations and positive affirmations when we’re trying to make changes in our lives.
In our work, we help our clients take control of their own stories, and through our books and blogs we widen our reach and help even more people. Our challenge is to maintain faith that the work we do ultimately leaves the world better than it was before. In the face of a pandemic and major national crises, this will be more difficult than usual.
To help you stay the course and continue your work of improving the narrative, please make sure you have a supportive group around you. If you’re looking for such a group, please consider joining my free Facebook Group, the Entrepreneurs Writing Club.
The magnitude of Wednesday’s attempted coup and everything that led us to this point is too big to cover in one blog post. In closing, I want to briefly mention the problem of racial inequality that was brought into sharp focus this week.
If you’ve read my post titled ‘Race, LGBTQ+, and Business’, you know that I think America (and every other country I can think of) needs to make significant structural and cultural changes to achieve true equality for all. The stark difference between how BLM activists or disability rights activists over the summer and the Trumpist mob on 6 January were treated make clear that nothing has changed and serious reforms are needed. The resignations we’ve seen in the last couple of days are a start, but they’re only just a start.