Futures Friday: Understanding Change Part 2

Life is Like a Storybook Story

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is a craft that allows one to transfer ideas and emotions from one person to another (or group of people). It has many forms and styles. Storytelling is not about facts, figures, and numbers. It is about passion, sparks, occurrences, happenstances, shared moments, seeing one another, and ultimately transferring part of ourselves.

More than an idea

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the power of ideas to create change. Storytelling, however, is about more than conveying ideas. It often starts with a message, a thought, or an idea that the creator then molds and sculpts into something coherent. Whether it is part of the hero/heroine’s journey or some other construct, with nurturing and care, the idea becomes something new. It becomes a story. A story however is a static thing and requires someone to tell it. This can be in words, art, dance, voice, video, and myriads of other forms. Last, there needs to be an audience, a listener. This is a critical part of storytelling as it is often in that relationship between teller and listener where change starts.

How storytelling creates change

Storytelling affects social change in three fundamental stages, inception, fertility, and action. These three stages reflect the reaction of the listener. First, as the original Star Trek series did for a young boy, it starts something new (inception) by planting seeds in the minds of the listener, and it is hard to say what those seeds will grow into. Second, storytellers also have the ability to create fertile ground in the listener, opening up new ways of thinking. This is where seeds may in fact grow and can even transition into the third stage, action. Storytelling can change us internally so fundamentally that we can not sit still.

Change Through Storytelling by JT Mudge

Stage 1: Inception

Storytelling, at its most fundamental level, is like farming. The story can be a classical piece of literature, a dramatic telling of a space opera, or a news article on CNN or Fox. Regardless of the story, good storytelling, at its core, is about planting ideas. It is about giving somebody something new.

Stage 2: Growth & Fertility

One of the most famous stories told in the New Testament is the “Parable of the Sower”. In it, a farmer plants seeds throughout his fields. Some fall on hard soil and fail while others fall on good soil and grow. The second stage of storytelling is creating that fertile and good soil.

Stage 3: Action

Ideas, sharing, and compassion, these are all tinder for the great conflagration of thought — action. This third stage of storytelling creates a profound enough change to drive the listener to do something proactive.

Change Through Telling the Future

Perhaps one of the best examples of how storytelling can change society is in a story itself, “The Toynbee Convector” by Ray Bradbury. In this tale of fiction, one man is exasperated with the path of human progress and creates a time machine to go into the future to find the solutions to the world’s current problems. When he comes back, he tells the people of his time of all the wonders of the future. Everyone is so inspired by this story that they create the world of the time traveler’s stories. Eventually a reporter learns that it was a story all along, that the time traveller did not in fact travel in time. It was the power of the storyteller, and the reaction of the people (the listeners), that planted the seeds, allowed them to grow, and blossomed into action to create change.

The Power of Storytelling

As powerful an agent as storytelling can be, some storytelling can prevent change and support unhealthy values and behaviors. Why was it OK for Peppy Le Pew to chase that poor cat? Why was everyone laughing as Ralph Kramden threatened to beat his wife on the Honeymooners? Why were these OK stories for children? Who were those storytellers?

I am an innovator, storyteller, futurist, and problem solver. I have a passion for sustainability and social justice. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jtmudge/