November 12, 2009

“What’s the story of the story?”

Today’s Worldwide Story Network teleconference resulted in great insight from Paul Costello, head of The Center for Narrative Studies, and author of The Presidential Plot.

In examining cultural and political narratives, Paul advised us to ask, “What’s the story of the story?”

This means, in essence, to take a long view, and to take in the full context and complexity of the story. To “Get off the dance floor and look down from the balcony.”

Paul suggested that people “Think of some cultural and political stories as products. They are being sold to us, and they may very well harm or even kill us.” He spoke of our “narrative vulnerabilities”, our weaknesses to be both manipulated, and inspired, by emotional stories of greatness and aspiration. And the way in which political leaders and journalists, in particular, can appeal to these vulnerabilities.

Paul also suggested that we “think of story as a verb. We have choices; we are all ‘story-ing’ our lives.” For an organization looking to effect change, this would mean asking, in this order:
• What is the ending for which we are striving?
• How did we start?
• Where are we now?
• How can we get to the desired ending?

I’ve written in the past about my use of the basic story framework – beginning, middle, and end – to make decisions and find my way out of complex situations. When agitated, I will often ask myself, How do I want this story to end? This enables me to focus on the goal and take control over the situation. Once I articulate where I want to be and what is happening, I ask, How can I make that happen?

Having spent decades working on peace and reconciliation in both Ireland and the Middle East, as well as analyzing the memes of the last American Presidential race, Paul is expert in seizing opportunities to tell a new narrative. He advises people looking to change the accepted narrative or narrative to “find the space for retelling of the unique stories.” Where is there room for a new story? Where might there be a narrative vulnerability on which you can hook your new narrative?

And, short of finding the space in which to create an entirely new narrative, perhaps there is the glimmer an existing story that you can nurture. Perhaps you, your organization, or your issue can find a place in a different story. Creating a new narrative can result from “feeding a story you want to grow and starving the other” destructive narrative.

1 comment:

  1. Thaler I regret not being able to participate today in Paul's discussion. Thank you for taking the time to share your recollections.

    Your synthesis offer much food for fodder. Story as verb and as in motion is a comforting way to see the never ending process of sense making. Your personal example of finding yourself in a middle of story looking for wher to go and how to get there is one that I and I'm sure many people resonate with.

    In this way story becomes living. I've heard others use the phrase, "Living Story," not sure who to attribute that to but it appeals to me. I see story almost as a space with its own dimensionality and architecture that takes shape and unfolds right before our very being. And of course its not a solitary endeavor. Even with our perceived boundary of self, story comes spilling out into the field of others wrapping itself like bean pod tendrils around the lattices of support that nurture and guide is growth.

    I am encouraged by your final thoughts framing Paul's comments...we can consciously feed the story that offer depth and possibilities and turn away from the destructive ones.



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