For generations, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis cultures have passed on knowledge through storytelling. Indigenous stories teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life, and are the foundation for relationship building, and experiential learning.
But people of all cultures live by stories that shape our understanding of the world.
To quote from Monbiot, “Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals.” He quotes George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It, where he explains, “stories perform a fundamental cognitive function: they are the means by which the Emotional Brain makes sense of the information collected by the Rational Brain. People may hold information in the form of data and figures, but their beliefs about it are held entirely in the form of stories”.
In other words, when we are faced with complex or confusing information or events, we try to make sense of them with respect to the story or narrative of the world to which we subscribe. In many cases, if the facts or information we have is not consistent with our stories, we will discount the facts and information rather than question the story.
For example, saying the facts show climate change is human caused and can be slowed over time by human action, does not resonate with the person who believes that this is part of God’s plan.
Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. Stories let us share information in a way that creates an emotional connection and helps us to understand and remember that information. Stories help us gain a deeper understanding of other people and their experiences, and how they apply the lessons they have learned to their everyday lives.
But stories can also form barriers to change. Monbiot argues that to be persuaded to let go of one story, there must be another story to replace it. No matter how discredited a story may be, only a new story can displace an existing story - there cannot be a void.
Many factors determine which stories we subscribe to, especially religion and culture. Our stories embody values that shape our attitudes towards nature, money, humanity, science, and more - in fact, they are the basis of how we think and behave.
The thesis of a “New Politics” is that we are collectively caught up in the wrong story, and we need a new story to replace it before we destroy the planet and ourselves along with it.
This TEDX talk by Damon Gameau is a great example of the power of storytelling:
“Ecological collapse is one of the greatest challenges of our times. We’ve long looked to science, politics and business for solutions, but perhaps we also need to be looking to storytelling. What role do stories play in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss? Can we tell a new, but old, story about humans and nature that will reshape our world for the better?”
- George Marshall, Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. 2014. Youtube introduction to the book
- Jeremy Lent The Patterning Instinct 2017. This book “identifies the root metaphors that cultures have used to construct meaning in their world.
- George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage – A New Politics for an Age of Crisis 2017