Using “STORY” To Support Facts

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

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:

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

16 thoughts on “Using “STORY” To Support Facts

  1. You’ve issued a tough challenge, Beth. It’s HARD to counter some folks’ beliefs both with — and to elicit — empathy. But sharing personal stories sure beats arguing about who’s “right.”

    • Thanks, Roxanne, wish we could sit over a lunch and share stories. I feel we would have a lot in common. Have a good week, Beth

  2. Love the Elvis Presley quote, I had never heard that before. I learned long ago that you might as well start with the truth, because you are eventually going to have to tell it.


    • I love your phrase, START with the TRUTH, because you are correct, no matter what it’s got to be told. Have a great day, Bill.

  3. wow…a powerful piece! As a former reporter and writing coach…I loved your references and analogies. I agree with emotional hooks and attachment. Nowadays with lies 24/7 that are just plain mean and ridiculous…it’s hard to feel enough empathy to tell a counter balance story. great food for thought which I’m going to share at my writing class this week…I’ll report back to you; story firm it not! 😊

  4. Thanks, Joan. Your words are so helpful today, I needed them. Connected with you on Pinterest. Don’t see you on Twitter. Are you on FB? Thanks, again and have a great day, Beth

  5. I have been studying the psychology of advertising lately and your statement at the beginning about cleaning products and women blew me away! Something so simple and yet SO TRUE! One picture is worth a thousand words!
    Change the story, change your mind is powerful stuff! Thanks for sharing!
    My favorite quote: Don’t believe everything you think! Especially about aging!

    • Hi Laura, thanks for reading and YES isn’t it weird how pictures and ideas take us over and we really are not that aware of it? Hope things are going well, Beth

  6. I have always used stories. For everything. To teach, council, explain, and remonstrate. One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned about forgiveness was in the movie Ice Age. When the mammoth is remembering his family’s death at the hands of MEN. And then the baby, the little MAN comes up to him for comfort and care. And he hesitates for a moment, then reaches out and takes care of him. I’ve used that story so many times.

    • Lovely ideas and thank you for sharing one of your favorite stories. They are what often hold families together and can tear them apart. Stories are vital, truth makes them purposeful. Beth

  7. One of the joys of having grandchildren is their delight in hearing family stories. The better the punch line, the more they enjoy it, remember it and repeat it. We’re creating family history and traditions by telling our kids and grandkids stories about what we’ve done and where we’ve been. No one wants a list.

    • I agree. The punch line of any story can create laughter and your grandchildren saying, I remember that story. Tell it again. It also encourage them to recreate their lives through story. Thanks for sharing. Beth

  8. Your post really got me thinking about the stories we’ve been told and the subliminal messages implanted in our psyches. Very interesting, Beth.

  9. Hi Helene, and thank you. Yes, I just read a fascinating piece today that referred to family myths. So family stories can be exaggerated or they can be outright lies that we believe as children and carry with us. So the idea of STORY has many ramifications. Take care, Beth

Comments are closed.