Saturday, June 21, 2008

THE POWER OF STORY

There's a brand new talk about endangered cultures from master storyteller Wade Davis. But before we get into it, I'd like to make a little diversion into the nature of story. Personally, I don't think that storytelling has a very high status in modern (adult) culture. Often you hear the question put like this: "Is that a fact or is it just a story?"


I believe that this common expression completely misses the point and, worse yet, hides from our view the true powers of story. Let me explain:

The Pawnee Indians have a very interesting way to distinguish between a true story and a false one. They do not make a moral judgment about "true" or "false". Instead, they say that a "false story" is one that is told for entertainment or for the aggrandizement of the storyteller and a "true story" is one that helps people learn something important for their lives. The most intriguing aspect is that one can create a "false story" entirely out of facts and a "true story" entirely out of fictions.

Here's an example: there are deep water oil reserves to be found below the shelves off the US coast. Most assessments say that the deposits are not huge, that it would take many years to develop them (shortage of drilling ships, etc), and that gasoline prices are much more the result of global supply and demand than anything else. These are the facts. Now place these facts into the story context of $2 per gallon gasoline (and relative economic stability) in the US and you get to maintain the ban on new off-short drilling. Place the same facts into the story context of $4 per gallon gasoline (and threatening economic uncertainty) and you get a serious attempt to lift the ban on off-shore drilling. The facts have not changed -- only the story and the intentions of the political storytellers during an election year.

Thus, without in anyway wanting to diminish the importance of discovering the facts -- Iraq and WMDs come to mind -- I want submit for your consideration that the story context surrounding our sense of who we are and what is our relationship with other peoples and the earth will be the most important determinant of the when's and how's of using (or not) our incredible technologies as we face a difficult and uncertain future.

Today, in the global story context of food crises, peaking oil, water shortages, deforestation, resources wars and climate change, we need all the help that we can get. Perhaps, the starting position must be humility and respect for the ancient traditions which have been studying for a very long time the problem of how humans might fashion a life in harmony with our incredible planet.

Here is Wade Davis' new TED talk:

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To the modern mind it may seem strange to hear of peoples who believe that their prayers and spiritual practices are what hold the world together but isn't this just another way of recognizing that we have become co-creators of our existence? And isn't the mystery of prayer not just to pray but to practice consciously our relationship with each other and the incredible world around us?

OK, I confess a conflict of interest that makes me less than a neutral objective observer -- I'm a storyteller. And you are too! What will be our story?


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