Narrative – a powerful tool for social change

Narrative – a powerful tool for social change.

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… public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment … makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible. —Abraham Lincoln

Narrative – a powerful tool for social change. At Our Story, we define narrative as a values based story about our core beliefs.

Powerful narratives, used over and over again over time, can change how people view the world and shape cultural common sense. Values and story are essential elements of narratives that move people.

Core beliefs – narrative and the 3rd face of power. We think of politics as what happens in elections, in legislative bodies and in our courts – that’s the 1st face of power. We see how entities – organizations, corporations, labor unions, political parties and more – work to shape politics – that’s the 2nd face of power.

But, as President Lincoln said, how people understand their relationship to the world around them, how they understand society, the economy, the role of government – is the dominant 3rd face of power. The prevailing worldview is the environment that defines what political change is possible.

Effective narratives, used smartly over and over again over time, can change worldview. And changing worldview is a powerful lever to make major change.

Values – It has been said that “morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.” Values – concepts that organize our morality – have tremendous emotional and explanatory value. And as Aristotle noted 2,000 years ago, emotion trumps reason in public persuasion. Powerful narratives spring from our values.

Story – We organize our world through stories and powerful narratives are based on stories. The epic stories – from the Iliad through Star Wars – are about how heroes vanquish villains to win their quest.

Powerful narratives use these story elements to help us understand our world.

  • What do we seek – our quest.
  • What is the problem – the villains and their threats.
  • What is the solution – the heroes and their tools.
  • Call to action – how the heroes vanquish the villain to win the quest.
  • Washington States’ Heroes’ Narrative explains the basics of epic story telling narratives.

Over and over again over time – Repetition is key to persuasion. People are much more likely to believe something they hear repeatedly. In fact, repetition can actually build new neural pathways. Repetition creates a pattern, which creates the comfort of familiarity. For narratives to drive change, we must repeat our story – including similar language – over and over again over time.