The sun has set. Your room has grown dark and is dimly lit by the bedside lamp as you crawl in under the covers, pull them up to your chin and rest your head on your pillow. You are five years old and your mum or dad sits beside you on the bed and opens your favourite book. The part of the day you waited for the most. It’s time for a story.
Your imagination starts to race. Drawing colourful pictures in your mind as the story unfolds. Everything else blends into the semi-darkness of your room and you are engrossed. You are hooked. Gripped, no less, by the power of story.
Not power in the sense of something with a negative bent like a power trip or being power hungry, but in the sense of belief that the story in which you are enthralled will lead you to a better place, a fantastic place where all things are possible.
Power is something we are often uncomfortable naming and talking about explicitly. It exists in our organisations, networks, laws and ideologies. Our power structure, if you will. With its mostly preconceived negative connotation power is no more inherently good or evil than fire or physics. It just is. The only question is whether we will try to understand and harness it. In the culture and mythology of democracy, power resides with the people. And when presented in its simplest form, power is simply the ability or capability to have others do as you would want them to do.
If we, as a people, want change and want to change (there is a difference), if we want others to learn, we need to do it through story. Aesops’ fables are a testament to that. Ageless tales of moral and ethical significance that still hold true for so much of our decision making today.
The art of storytelling still exists in society, however, the compelling and persuasive nature of our stories have in many instances lost their strength. Their raison d’etre. It is the financially powerful amongst us who tell stories about why they deserve their position in society, primarily for their own justification. Similarly so, the powerless in society tell stories too that only vindicate their position in society. This creates a divergence of influence and a broadening gap between those at the top of the tree and those the provide the tree with its foundation (a point quite often lost on those at the top).
While Aesop may be revered for his moral tomes of brilliant aptness, we don’t need to look far to see how much story pervades our existence. Most world cultures and communities exist through and by story. Before the written word, oral history permeated generations as the way of remembering and providing guidance for future direction. The indigenous histories of our world be it the first peoples of North America, South America, Australia or any other part of the world are told through story.
To bring balance back to this current situation and challenge the powerful, the powerless must change their story. Their story must offer alternatives, present visions of unity and ‘us’. The story must give rise to the ‘David’ in every citizen ruled by Goliath. It is through story that each David can bond and reverse the power differential that permeates most societies today.
Story provides the power, the energy, for change for the advancement of society. We learn to do or not to do through story. The story of civilisation, the story of us, of now, are all catalytic agents for changing the status quo, of enabling us to progress socially, morally, emotionally but pragmatically to a better world.
Stories are weapons in an endless contest for legitimacy. Power does not come through military might or bullish strength. Our inner strength is forged in our mind, forged through ideals and concepts that push us on to strive for a better future. In our mind, we cherish the words that we learnt from stories that gave us our direction, our true north.
The memories of the stories you heard as a child when you were tucked into your bed at night of fantastic places, amazing people and incredible ideas that filled your dreams with awe and wonder, are where your true power comes from. Your power to dream, to believe and to do, all through the power of the story.