The Power of Story

It’s been a while since I wrote, so this one is a whopper. I apologise in advance. 🙂

I love good media. I really do. There is something extremely satisfying about engaging with media in a way that moves people to action.

A little while ago my church had a project that needed some video to tell the story. We filmed one of the beautiful mothers in our church sharing some of her story – then I tailed it with a simple After Effects template that was tweaked to give an overall recap of the project. At the conclusion of the clip, the congregation applauded! As linked to previously, I more recently had the opportunity to connect with Hope:Global in the telling of one of their stories which spearheaded a campaign to raise funds for the Village of Hope in Rwanda.

In both instances, something about the telling of the story engaged with the ‘audience’ and moved them. This got me thinking of a quote often attributed to Plato: “Those who tell the stories rule society.”

I believe that the power of stories – or myth as Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces) called them – lies in their capacity to communicate and reveal truth. For brevities sake I don’t want to get into the age old question that Pontius Pilate asked of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Suffice to say for now that while different people have differing understandings of truth, the role of storytelling plays a vital role in the conveyance of those truths. A good tale told well will easily communicate ‘truth’ to an audience.

P.K. McInerney once noted that, “Good reasons for what you believe, should be recognizable as good reasons by other reasonable people.” If that premise is true, then having other reasonable people recognise (and ultimately accept) truths is the great aim of any story. We have even coined a phrase to ask, “What’s the moral of the story?” Subsequently, I would suggest that if Plato’s premise that there is such power inherent in storytelling is correct, then the potential for its abuse is sort of frightening. In fact, that is one of the reasons I seldom watch the news any more. I find it is no longer reporting news inasmuch as it has become a vehicle with which to tell the masses a story of the ‘truths’ of fear, and danger, and hate, and violence, and etc. But it turns out that’s not as new an idea as we’ve been led to believe since ‘9/11’.

Mass manipulation through fear – and it’s manipulating brother aspiration too, to be honest – is a long-standing abuse by mainstream media. If you wind the clock back to early twentieth century, we can find Edward Bernays telling us that, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…” (Bernays, 1928)

Seldom do we find the virtuous story that inspires us to action in today’s economy. But those are the stories we need more than ever. Why does a story like Les Misérables continue to fire the imagination with it’s numerous stage shows and cinematic releases? Because it communicates love, forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, and courage – to name but a few of the truths that Victor Hugo explored. These kind of truths resonate and inspire us. Is it any wonder that classical myths were so grandiose in nature? Yes, manipulation through fear and aspiration can get people moving: but they are short term solutions. Only inspiration produces long term results.

And that is where I come full circle. Even though the vast majority of media enterprise is at best frightfully wasted (can anyone say Big Brother?), or at worst, flagrantly manipulative – I still love good media. I love it for the continued potential it has to inspire humanity to deep, long-lasting truths such as faith, hope, and love. And I love it because both you and I can actually step up, cease to be spectators, and actually become active participants in the media conversation if we want to. And when we do that, maybe our own story will inspire others to action. Now wouldn’t that be a story?

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