How to change the world

How to change the world

As humans, we make sense of the world through narrative. We are not, at our core, rational beings — we’re story beings. There’s no escaping this reality. 

Naturally, we all like to think we are rational. We try to pretend all our values and beliefs have been logically arrived at. But in truth, we embrace our views and then try and justify them. 

Think about it. How often do we get into debates where we rationally process the other person’s view? In the heat of it, do we listen to their logic and then calmly embrace their view?

No. That isn’t how it happens. 

Not that we can’t have our mind changed. We can. And making space for rational and logical reasoning can be part of that process. But, at our core, humans are not instinctively rational.

Annette Simmons, in the title of her book, captures one impact of this reality: Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins.

We love stories. We make up narratives around everything. All the time. And stories shape us. Stories, whether we realise it or not, do far more to shape who we are and what we think than facts and figures.

Donald Trump is President of the United States because a significant number of people bought into the story he told them. I would argue that he presented a false narrative, but that’s besides the point. He’s in power because he compelled enough people with the story he told. He gave them a story about about the state of the world, themselves, and how he could change things. And enough people bought it. Again, whoever tells the best story wins.

Brexit won over the (slight) majority of British voters because the Brexiteers’ story was more captivating. The Remainers were too focussed on negative facts and figures. 

Politics constantly swings one way to another. This is not based on reason and rationale. It’s based upon whichever leader or party is telling the more powerful story. 

So how do we change the world? We tell better stories. 

It’s not a surprise that many of the great world-changers were also great storytellers. The two go hand in hand. Jesus of Nazareth never got stuck in the realm of facts and figures. He avoided detailed legal arguments around certain parts of Jewish laws and regulations. Instead, he told parables. He changed people’s mind through provocative stories. Sometimes deeply offensive stories.

But he understood that stories do far more to persuade and provoke than some dry, impersonal, fact.

If there’s anything our world is in desperate need of right now it is better storytellers. And good, better storytellers. People who aren’t self-interested and self-absorbed. Great storytellers who love humanity, want the best for all of humanity. People who call out the best from us rather than the worst.

Instead, our political leaders are preying on our fears. They’re telling narratives that make us fear one another. They provoke us to assume the worse about anyone who’s different from us. They’re pushing us down rather than pulling us up.

But how do we change anything? What can we do right now?

We tell better stories.

To ourselves.
To our kids.
To our families.
To our friends and neighbours.
To our colleagues.

Most of us won’t get to influence millions. But we can influence the people around us.

We do this by making sure we build our narratives on hope and not fear. Narratives of care and compassion. Inclusion for all. Love for everyone. Kindness. Generosity. We tell stories that point people to become the best versions of ourselves. To live with open arms. 

And little by little, person by person, we drive our fear as the primary narrative motivator. And in its place we put hope.

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