Stories have immense power and we are delusional if we think that we are going to change them with good intentions, by throwing more money at them, by passing laws or even by ignoring their power.
As are myths, legends, gossip, rumors, and even tall tales.
It takes more than just raw talent or brute force to break a story. Many stories are resilient, not because of the content of the stories themselves (that’s another matter altogether) but because of the feelings that those stories generate.
Stories of conflict, despair, defeat, disappointment, are even more powerful, because it’s easier to convince people of a negative outcome than a positive one. Parties in conflict believe that their negative story is the only story possible out of a range of stories, and because they believe that, they continue to perpetuate the same story repeatedly.
But then, ever so often, a story has the power to change, from a negative one, to a positive one.
Usually this happens after the people hearing the story, absorbing the story, and repeating the story, either surrender, lose hope, or move onto to another story altogether. When a story changes from a negative to a positive, it usually takes one person (and usually that person is a man) to lay out a vision of another path, another story that can supersede the one that is ingrained in listener’s ears, hearts, and minds.
In the realm of politics (where stories—or narratives, if you will—drive votes) the name for the person who used to lay out the vision and tell a different story, and then doggedly pursue that story, was a statesman, or a visionary.
Part of the trouble with the modern (and post-modern) world, is that when every individual has a right to their own narrative (but not their own facts) the power of a story becomes even harder to break. It becomes integrated so deeply into identities, behaviors, and lived out choices, that it seems as if there could never be another version of the same story.
Or even, another version of a different story. And when every individual has a right to their own narrative, it becomes almost impossible for a single statesman to step forward and offer a unifying vision, because they aren’t granted the authority to do so by the same audience who desperately longs for a different story.
This is both a positive and negative development. It is corrosive because, without a sense from the individualized mass audience consuming the story that the story can change—it doesn’t. It is positive because it means that each individualized person can believe differently, act differently, and tell a different story without permission from above.
Stories have immense power. And the only way that we can change them is by becoming the visionaries we need to be to change the stories we tell ourselves.
And each other.