Monday, July 7, 2014

Changing the story

“There's always a story. It's all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything's got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” 
― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky

A good story is only good if starts and stops int he right place and includes some details while excluding others.  This is an obvious truth, but it's one we often overlook. By overlooking it, we tend to ignore the power of the storyteller in entertainment and in more mundane arenas.

How often do we question the motive of the storyteller? Do we routinely wonder about the gaps in storytelling or why certain characters are flat and unimportant, even when those characters are based on real people who faced triumphs and turmoil and had to make hard decisions and laughed and loved and did all the things we do? No we tend not to, and that is both a hallmark of the storyteller's power, but a failing in how we are taught to critically question the reality around us. It gives storytellers a way to manipulate what we take away from a story.

Take the American rags-to-riches narrative genre, for example, it paints the picture of a hard-working, clever, brave soul who made it big, but rarely does it acknowledge all of the help that individual gets along the way. It ignores the contributions of industrious and loyal workers, caregivers, and romantic partners in favor of inflating the main character alone to superhuman proportions.  The sacrifices of everyone around them, are completely ignored. Anyone they trample and abuse is left out of the narrative.  The truth is edited into some palatable, something powerfully seductive and dangerous that tells that selfishness and financial success is the objective of life.

However, if we take this same story and include these elements, we get a tale of someone who was lucky in who they born to, who they knew, and who helped them. We see how complicated the relationships around us are, and how often those relationships pave the way for incredible feats. It also illustrates the inherent pitfalls of these relationships, how they are used against us, how they can be abused, how egos can destroy even the greatest creation.

I urge you to look at the stories, myths and legends around you, those that inspire, haunt, or motivate, and look for what's missing in them.  Is the story really as simply and heroic as it seems, or is it facet of something complicated and vast?  Search for the helping hands who are never thanked, the relationships that influenced actions, and the lucky chances that made all the difference. Then question who really is the hero and who is the villain. That's how you change the story, that's how you start to change the world.

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