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Stories for Change – Creating a Narrative That Matters

by Admin

From our Winter 2015/2016 issue. Be the first to read the next issue of Positive Life in print – Subscribe.


By Davie Philip

We are hardwired to create and share stories; that is how we learn and is what shapes our identity. An authentic and well-told story helps us re-imagine our lives, gives us hope and offers us a sense of what could be possible. If we want to have more influence in shaping a better world, storytelling is a crucial skill to master.

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, 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 alongside the increasing amount of advertising we’re exposed to keeps us shopping, disconnected and unmotivated to engage in positive change.

To meet the targets required to avoid catastrophic global warming we must consume less. Yet the dominant cultural narrative encourages us to do the opposite. However, making people feel guilty about their lifestyle rarely leads to real change and research has shown that ‘threats’ used in communicating environmental or health matters can instead lead to denial and even cause resistance to change.

At a recent conference, Mary Robinson demanded that we take the climate change issue personally asking: “What can you do to make the transition to a low-carbon future?” We definitely need to hear more compelling personal stories to inspire us to transform our lives and the places we live. At the Electric Picnic this year, I hosted a panel discussion on the topic of culture change. One of the panelists, a former researcher at a national radio station, remarked that when she pitched stories like these they were deemed ‘too worthy’!

Sustainability issues need urgent responses, and although there are many great examples of inspirational, community-led initiatives helping their local areas flourish, are we hearing about enough of them? As someone involved with and aware of many of these initiatives, it’s often a surprise to me how little is known about transition initiatives, eco-villages, permaculture and other grassroots projects that are prototyping a different future. We need communities and individuals that have been successful in developing local energy or food projects, strengthening their resilience or reducing their carbon footprint to share their learnings. We need to hear your stories.

Initiatives like Creative Islanders, Change X and Get Involved are all providing platforms that do this and social media makes it easier too, but we can’t just ‘consume’ the stories, we all need get out from behind our screens and live our own part of this unfolding story of change, co-creating a narrative that matters.

Davie Philip is based at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, he is a group facilitator and trainer and manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning.. Davie is collecting stories of transformational community led projects; if you know of something in your area, send him an e-mail. davie@cultivate.ie

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