Story telling is powerful. Presenting an argument using a story is the first step to winning that argument and possibly getting others to follow our thinking. It’s basic psychology. It’s understanding how the brain works. Story is universal. WE LOVE STORY! But the story doesn’t always tell the truth.
Author Lisa Cron provides a succinct analysis in her Ted Talk, Wired for Story. She relates how we believe things over time because of the stories we have heard–her example: “women are responsible for a clean house.” She believed this story because every cleaning commercial she had ever seen showed women using the product. Eventually she realized the story wasn’t true for many reasons–but it helped her understand its power. Story is emotion. We evaluate life and our choices through the emotion of story and we have to FEEL something in order to make choices: our spouse, our home, our clothing etc. Story is the reason our ancestors knew NOT to eat the red berries. Because someone died and the stories got passed along. Cron points out that story is often how we survive.
The message in THE LION KING? You either run from the past (the story) or you learn from it. How you think about a story is always related to how you feel about it.
In her Ted Talk, Cron mentions TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee, underlining that the author used “story” to move us in a different direction so that as a people we could combat decades of racism in American culture. That novel, that story about Scout Finch, a young girl living in American’s South, changed many people’s hearts and cut into the formidable stain of racism. Cron says: “You aren’t reading about Scout, you are Scout. Story takes you there.”
Former First Lady, Laura Bush, said that Lee’s book was a prime example of how words can create strong ideas and impact the mindset of readers for decades. All the scholarly facts and figures about race might not have had as profound an effect as the words of Atticus Finch and Scout in that story.
When you boldly think about it, racism is a learned pattern of thinking that humans become exposed to through story–while they are growing up. It’s like young Thomas or Claire deciding not to like Uncle Dennis, because of all the stories they’ve heard from their family: Dennis swears, always wears the same shirt, has been known to tell dirty jokes and once stayed with the family for a week and never offered to pay for a meal. But then Thomas and Claire meet Dennis and within an hour discover he’s kind, will play ball out in the yard and knows more about science exploration than anyone. He’s not a bad guy–he’s just not, for reasons the kids can’t figure out, a family favorite. Story is powerful and you might still not like certain people in your life because of a STORY you once heard about them.
Now think about someone you’ve met who is against vaccines, telling a story about a child she knew getting autism from being vaccinated. In the book, DENYING TO THE GRAVE, WHY WE IGNORE the FACTS THAT WILL SAVE US, Sara and Jack Gorman explore story as a means to understand and then counteract harmful lies. They relate that we should not dismiss and walk away from people who deny facts. Instead, we should be challenged to counteract their beliefs. (WOW. Just think about the present political climate, everything resting on it, and all the lies floating around. THAT’S a CHALLENGE.)
The writers of DENYING TO THE GRAVE have found that when it comes to believing in science, we humans are uncomfortable with an event that does not have a clear cause–like autism–so we tend to fill in the gaps ourselves. Being emphatic creatures who can learn human understanding from the story of Scout Finch, we might deny science after hearing the story “you get autism from vaccines.” And we might stay there. The story has power, creates images in the imagination that statistics cannot always overcome.
Story is power and that’s why writers in widely read publications like TIME MAGAZINE, begin a news article by zooming in on ONE PERSON that story has affected. We readers immediately find our brains connecting with that ONE PERSON and so the facts begin to stick with us–the smart writer leaving the statistics for later, after the empathetic part of your brain has already been hooked.
DENYING THE GRAVE concludes that instead of chastising folks for their belief in a story, we should figure out why we are drawn to this story in the first place and work to change minds with compassion and understanding–not disdain.
I challenge all of us to do that every day. When we hear stories that fall on our ears as lies, we should attempt a kind response, one that draws empathy from our listener, one that might be part of our own personal story, one that helps build a STORY for the truth.
Photo Credit: www.mlparentcoach.com