Creating a Narrative that Matters

We are hardwired to create and share stories; it’s how we learn and is what shapes our identity. A well-told story helps us re-imagine our lives, gives us hope and offers us a sense of what could be possible.

A great majority of the stories we are exposed to appeal to values associated with consumption, status and our self-image. Transformational stories need to engage people’s ‘intrinsic’ or non-materialistic values, rather than ‘extrinsic’ or materialistic ones. When the stories we hear appeal to extrinsic values we are far less likely to be concerned about the environment or have empathy for others.

Generally what is deemed to be newsworthy these days is anxiety inducing or cultivates self-doubt and apathy. Headlines of crime, terrorism and celebrity scandals dominate, and rarely challenge the economic and social status quo.  This narrative of negativity along with the increasing amount of advertising we are exposed to keeps us shopping, disconnected from each other and unmotivated to engage in positive change

We are told that to meet the targets required to avoid catastrophic global warming we must begin to consume less. Unfortunately the dominant cultural narrative encourages us – over and over again – to do exactly the opposite. However making people feel guilty about their lifestyle will not make them change it, and research has shown that threats often used in communicating environmental or health matters can instead lead to denial and cause resistance to change.

We definitely need to hear more compelling stories to inspire us to transform our lives and the places we live. Although there are many great examples of inspirational community led initiatives helping their local areas flourish, we are just not hearing about them. It is surprising how little is known about Transition initiatives, eco-villages, permaculture and other grassroots projects that are prototyping a different future. Communities that have been successful in developing local energy or food projects, strengthening their resilience or reducing their carbon footprint are an important source of learning and we need to share these stories.