We keep these gatherings small to ensure maximum magic — put your paws to your mouse and register!!!
So here’s a nice little illustration of one the reasons why we’re the planet’s most successful predator and yet are also capable of believing climate change doesn’t exist or that the world is flat.
I’m a big fan of the You Are Not So Smart podcast, which deep dives into cognitive quirks and things like the Backfire Effect, active information avoidance, Confirmation Bias and all kinds of essential knowledge about human behaviour for anyone looking to create social change.
David McRany, the podcast author (full disclosure, I’m a patreon) did an epsiode on Desirability Bias, a companion bias to Confirmation bias — the phenomena that accounts for how we select to hear patterns that confirm our beliefs and discard those that don’t. Desirability bias twists that bias even further, by making us filter information to provide evidence for futures we want to come true rather than rationally process the evidence of what future is actually likely to come true.
Part of the way he illustrated our ability to pick out patterns from chaos was a magic trick. You listen to what sounds like random noise, and try as you may, you can’t make any sense of it.
And then you hear the key, and suddenly there’s no going back — it’s so obvious, you feel somewhat flabbergasted you didn’t always hear it. What the trick demonstrates is a pretty startling example of how our brains present meaning and reality to us, and how easily our perception of reality can be changed when we have been exposed to a pattern. Think about all the times you’ve heard a word for the first time, then heard it seemingly 4 times in the next week. Or think about how a repeated phrase like “Fake News” starts to lift out of the background of daily noise to occupy the center of our collective attention. This simply little trick is a pretty potent demonstration of how selective our listening can be. David McRany makes the case that it must have been a great survival tool: the jungle is a noisy place, and those of us who could pick out the sound of a stalking tiger would have been more likely to pass that skill down genetically.
So why Alexa? I’ve been playing around with a great piece of labor-saving software called Storyline, so I turned the audio magic trick into an Alexa skill to try it out. If you have an Alexa you can just enable the skill in the US, UK, India, Canada, or Australia or there’s a simulator version here for those who don’t.
Give it a listen, either via the Alexa Skill or just listen to the podcast: it’s totally freaky.
And for anyone looking for an easy way to build interactive stories for Alexa, Storyline rocks: I literally built the Pattern Recognition Magic Trick in twenty minutes.
The forest is bathed in moonlight, thick with the scent of pine, and alive with the crackle and ketchup smell of oak ablaze in a circle of stones, the sparks flying up into the night sky to create temporary constellations.
Mister Fox takes an apple, runs a stick through its core, and holds it out over the flames. “Once upon a time” he creatively begins, “Zeus, Jehovah, and Odin walked into a bar. “Why the long faces?” asks the bartender, a tall skinny fellow with white hair and an Irish brogue. Zeus orders a bottle of Ouzo and says “Human freaking beings. They stole my most powerful magic — the ability to make fire.” “Oy, says Jehovah, you think you’ve got problems,” as he ordered a bottle of wine. “To steal fire, they needed to know what fire was. And they know THAT because they stole my most powerful magic: knowledge.” Odin orders a beer and stays quiet. The bartender leans in and says “Uh, Odin, this is the part of the story where you one-up them and deliver the punchline. Odin? Odin?” Mister Fox gives us a nod, bites the apple, and produces a very cold beer he has somehow conjured out of nothing, and offers us a sip….
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge. But in Norse mythology, it was the Mead of Poetry — the ability to tell stories — which humanity distilled from a God’s stolen gift.
The Norse chose wisely.
Stories are the invisible architecture of the human world. Let me repeat that: Stories are the invisible architecture of the human world. Until you take the red pill and realise this simple fact, Neo, you will never be truly free.
Most of the stories that govern our lives are so ancient, so burned-in to our psyche, that we forget they are stories.
The days of the week are stories — monkeys are not happy on Friday, Giraffes don’t get the Monday blues. All of us accept, unquestioning, the story that there are 7 days in a week and their cycle resets on Sunday. And that story frames the way we think about an entire day, and even our sense of the possible. What seems possible on a Tuesday may be very different from what seems possible on a Sunday.
But there are bigger stories that also shape our lives — the story of justice, of equality, the story of money, of corporations, the story of Democracy or the 6 major religions. All of these stories are what Yuval Harrari calls “inter-subjective imagined orders.” They have no physical or biological truth — they were all created and agreed by human beings and only exist as long as human beings keep believing in them.
They are mythologies: stories kept alive by retelling, made stronger by rituals, amplified through social proof.
I’ve recently read “Sapiens” — Harrari’s sweeping history of the species, which might have been subtitled “A history of story.” He covers some of the same ground that Jonathan Haidt went over in The Righteous Mind, but brings it to life in new ways. What made humans the most successful species on the planet was our ability to unify and organise small groups around stories that we made up to define a common purpose — the story of the hunters of the tribe, the story of the gods of the seasons that helped us grow food, the story of a pyramid to protect the pharaoh’s soul, the story of a nation, in which each of us is a character, in which each of us plays a role.
His retelling of the invention of the limited company in 19th century is brilliant. It was sorcery — a powerful magician, in this case, a lawyer, utters a magic spell with powerful words he writes on paper and creates an entity from thin air and says this entity is going to borrow money. It’s not ME borrowing money, it’s this thing I just created. And if it fails, I’m not liable for its debts, because it wasn’t me that borrowed the money — it’s this thing I call a company. How good a trick was that? Enough people believed that sorcerer to breathe life into that being. And to this day, corporations exist because we accept the magical power of law that says they do, and that story has been reinforced over and over by retellings that make it stronger, that give it a permanence. Yet a corporation doesn’t exist. You can’t touch it. It exists nowhere but in our storytelling brains, just as every spire in the Manhattan skyline was once just a story on paper, just as the death of a mastodon was nothing but a story told around a fire in a cave that turned into a plan.
When I retell the story of Rosa Parks sitting in the front of a bus and so setting off a chain of events that created the civil rights act, I reinforce the story of progress, the story of equality, the story of justice, the story of the long arc of history. Every time a woman goes to the polls and tells someone they’re voting because they remember the scorn heaped upon Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her fellow sufferagettes, they participate in a ritual which reinforces the story of democracy.
Stories are the operating system of the human mind. They are the operating system of civilisation. And here’s some good news: they can be hacked.
When Kumi Naidoo was a young student activist fighting against Apartheid, he was part of a 100-year-long story of resistance to South Africa’s systemized discrimination. He was told his cause was just, but it was hopeless. South Africa in those days had no democratic system by which dissent could be openly expressed, no means of openly organising. The government commanded the largest military force on the African continent. South Africa was a wealthy and stable economic partner — no foreign government was going to interfere in their domestic policies at the expense of billions in trade.
But in the space of Kumi’s lifetime, that story changed. It was hacked not just by Steven Biko and Nelson Mandella and Desmond Tutu, but by Kumi’s white high school teacher, peering from out her door to make sure no police or neighbors were watching as she allowed a dissident student group to meet in her home. It was hacked by people in the west who started showing up at South African embassies to protest. It was hacked by individuals who joined the boycott on South African goods. And at some point, some magical point that every activist longs for, something changed: enough people came to believe that change was possible, that change BECAME possible. That’s the story of activism. As Bob Hunter once said, “big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish.”
It’s because big change looks inevitable in hindsight that we forget the courage it once took to believe in it. To act for it. As we look back we think how primitive that anyone would forbid women from working or voting or segregate drinking fountains by the colour of someone’s skin or say with a straight face “all men are created equal” while excluding half the human race. Surely those customs would have eroded eventually and we would arrive in this enlightened time as surely as the sun rises and sets? No— change happens in society when a society wrestles with a contradiction, a clash of stories. How can we both believe that God created all men equal and yet also believe that African slaves are inferior? It’s then we enter the cultural thunderdome. Two stories enter, one story leaves. FIGHT!
Kumi’s story has always given Mister Fox hope. As we look out across the vast expanse of threats to human existence today — from climate change to nuclear war to an economic system that’s hungry enough to consume four times the Earth’s capacity … change seems impossible. And yet the moral of the story of activism is that nothing is impossible, and that individual acts of courage, no matter how foolhardy and naive they may seem in the face of certain defeat, can hack the story of the impossible into the story of the inevitable.
“No way you humans ought to be the dominant species on this planet,” says Mister Fox, sizing us up. “By forest standards, you’re weak, you can’t see much or hear very well, your teeth are better suited to cookies than combat, and your claws are a joke — other than that Wolverine fellow. But you’ve got one nice ace up your sleeve” he declares, pulling an ace from his sleeve, “You sure know how to tell stories. And it’s through telling stories that you learned the secret that made you the most dangerous animal on earth: how to cooperate. You learned a form of storytelling set in the future. The very first planning meeting probably went something like ‘we’re going to hunt this mammoth.’ You set the plot. Then you assigned roles and characters and then played them out. ‘I’ll run at the mammoth from behind screaming. He’ll run into that valley where you jump out from behind a rock with a spear and you and you will roll boulders down on him from above.’ Suddenly, you were collectively more powerful than a lion.”
Mister Fox is right. But that cooperation is hard to maintain. It takes resources and energy. So evolution has made it resilient: we have all kinds of in-built mental mechanisms that ensure we behave collectively. And one of the strongest is the way we adjust our behaviour to model the behaviour of those around us. The “descriptive norm” is what we perceive as “the thing everyone else does” and we’re hard-wired to conform with it. Doing what everyone else does is easy, natural, requires no cognitive processing whatsoever. Watch anyone walk into a room where everyone is looking up at the ceiling, you’ll see them look up at the ceiling. Walk into a room full of tuxedos in your jeans? No matter how comfortable those jeans felt on the street five minutes ago, they feel uncomfortable now. You’re out of synch with the rest of the tribe. At a festival where everyone is dropping their plastic cups on the ground? You’re extremely likely to take that as permission to drop yours.
Mister Fox: “Most of your audience just disagreed with you. They’re a bunch of greenies. They told themselves they wouldn’t drop that cup. They don’t litter.”
Ah, and Mister Fox is right. When instead of doing what the crowd does, you seek out a recycle bin, you’re following the “Injunctive Norm” — the thing you perceive as what everyone OUGHT to do. And most of us who are social change makers, progressives, environmentalists, activists, what have you, do just that. But here’s the thing: it’s HARD. It requires bucking the descriptive norm, which comes natural and requires no thought.
The injunctive norm is a rule that your brain evaluates: you shouldn’t eat those cookies if you’re trying to lose weight; you shouldn’t fly when you can take the train to save carbon; you should bring your water bottle with you when you go out so you don’t buy a single use plastic bottle. And we run those rules through a cognitive maze that weighs the cost of compliance against the preceived value or benefit and, whether we know it or not, the essential question: how different will this make me from my group? How will this make me a better or worse match for the group I am in or aspire to be a part of? How will others perceive my suitability for inclusion? What is everyone else in my group doing?
So, for example, if you’re evaluating whether to put on a tie or not, you’re going to evaluate the setting you’re heading into. Picnic? No tie — nobody else will be wearing one. Meeting at a Fortune 500 company? Tie. Now this may be hard to accept, but we run ethical injunctions through the same test — sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Someone who would never, ever drop a piece of litter in a beautiful park might very happily toss their plastic beer cup on the ground at that festival littered with beer cups because the organiser’s haven’t provided convenient recycling locations. It might be just as inconvenient to not litter the park, but that key excuse: “everyone else is doing it,” isn’t there in the park, it is in the stadium. You won’t feel like a bad person, or look like a bad person, by doing what everyone else is doing and tossing your beer cup to the floor. You won’t even think of it as littering, you won’t put it through a cognitive maze. Doing as everyone else does requires no reflection or effort: it’s the easiest rule of social behaviour and gets reinforced every minute of our lives that we wear clothes like everyone else or imitate each others speech patterns or follow the rituals of human or cultural behaviour from what’s acceptable eye contact to how we express our emotions.
Now, let’s look at what happens when we hear a piece of activist communications like this:
Plastics dumped into the world’s oceans may outweigh fish by the year 2050.
There’s a simple statement of fact. For any of us concerned about this issue, it’s alarming. It makes us want to do something, to align with those who believe we’re using too much plastic as a society and not recycling responsibly and wasting the earth’s resources. But it also reinforces the Descriptive Norm: Everyone is throwing plastic away. Everyone is using lots of plastic. And while we may embrace the injunctive, there’s a totally unfair fight going on in our brains between several million years of evolution as a social animal that easily, without thinking, wants to conform to the norm, and that young, inexperienced moral brain, a few thousand years old, which senses that the group behaviour needs to change.
At a macro level, activism as usual says we need to to present the current norm as wrong, show how it conflicts with our values or threatens our long term interests, and activate the rational brain in deciding to change behaviour away from that norm. But the moment we’ve presented the norm, we’ve disadvantaged our evolutionary predisposition to conform. We’ve chosen between two ways of changing behaviour, and we’ve picked up the slow one.
Let’s say we organise a beach clean up and collect all the plastic straws from miles of garbage. We build a giant mosaic made of the straws to show just how many straws people are using, how excessive it is, and to punch home the point that we should use less straws. But your work of art sends two signals. One is weak: “we should use less plastic.” It’s weak because it needs to go through the cognitive maze of group impact evaluation, benefit and loss calculations, and the weighing of just how much we care about this proposed departure from the norm before we embrace a behaviour change. But it also sends a strong signal: “everyone uses plastic.” And for most of our audiences, that’s it, game over. Because when our brains are faced with a contradiction that requires us to make a choice, the easiest option is to ignore the choice. To set aside the injunctive norm in favor of the “do like everyone else” norm.
What if, instead of amplifying the story of how bad the oceans plastic problem is, we build communications around changing people’s perception of the norm? What if we change the narrative to amplify the rejection of single use plastic? Instead of concentrating on how scary bad the problem is, we elevate the counter story of communities that have drastically reduced plastic use, restaurants that have stopped providing straws, the worldwide awakening to the danger of microbeads, the counterforce of people declining offered plastic straws, plastic earbuds, and the thousand other examples of people actually taking action to reduce plastic pollution?
Hacking the perception of the norm is key to change. It’s only when people in sufficient numbers come to believe change is possible that change becomes possible. And people only believe change is possible when they perceive a critical mass of their fellow citizens acting in ways consistent with that change. So here we are back at the stories we tell, and how they shape behaviour.
Consider this example of using the descriptive norm to shape behaviour instead of the injunctive norm. A company wants to encourage employees to ride bikes to work. They try telling employees how much healthier it is, how much it will help reduce the company’s carbon footprint, how it will lower their insurance rates. They get a few takers, and put a bike rack in the basement. But the number of bikers stays steady at those few hard-core edge cases. Mister Fox whispers in someone’s ear that they should put the bike rack out front, by the main door, so everyone sees the bikes on their way in to work. But the company had big ambitions for this programme, and the bike rack is huge. Most days, it’s not even half full. Mister Fox points out that doesn’t convey the right message — it says not many people are biking. So one night he sneaks out and removes half the bike racks. Now when people walk in they see more bikes than the bike racks can accommodate. Whoa. This biking thing is getting big. If everyone else is biking, I should too. The number of bike riders doubles.
There’s an important role for pointing out problems. But when it comes to trying to change people’s behaviour all of us need to be aware of the need to model solutions.
Mister Fox says the Moral of the story is this: “The real trick of activism isn’t convincing people there’s a problem: it’s changing their behaviour toward a solution. The easiest way to make a behaviour mainstream is not to tell people it should be, it’s to show them that it’s already on its way.”
Mister Fox popped a blueberry into the air and pointed his whiskers skyward. I was trying to explain the US election to him.
“So what was the happy ending that Occupy, Clinton, and Bernie were promising?” he asked, munching on the caught blueberry.
“What do you mean,” I responded, grabbing in midair the next blueberry he popped up, “Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said? Reduced economic inequality, better access to health care and education for more people, less discrimination, a concentrated effort against climate change.”
Mister Fox sniffed. “See, all I remember was that one guy… what was his name? The one with the fabulous orange colouring?” he asked, looking down momentary at his own flaming coat of auburn and gold, “the one who promised to “Make America Great Again.”
“I bet he won. He stole what should have been their line, and was the only one talking about the most important part of the story.”
Are you telling the most important part of your story or are you being outfoxed and out-storied by someone else? I have three reduced-fee last-minute tickets to a day-long introduction to Story as Theory of Change, with practical exercises straight from Mister Fox’s bag of storytelling tricks. We will gather this coming Tuesday 21st of March, at the Four Paws office in London. PM me on Twitter, @Brianfit in the next 72 hours for a happy ending to this and future stories!
One Saturday in 1983 I was out canvassing for Greenpeace. I knocked on the door of a mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts and braced for the worst. I didn’t like the look of this place. Canvass long enough, and you’re able to do an instant visual demographic prediction of who is going to open the door, and how likely you are to get a donation. The indicators that I was going to walk away empty handed? The car in the driveway was a Mercedes rather than a Volvo. No bumperstickers. The dog was doberman rather than retriever. The newspaper tube at the end of the very long driveway, complete with marble lions, was for the Wall Street Journal. And sure enough, within seconds of the door opening my suspicions were confirmed: the owner was a Reagan Republican. Nevertheless, ten minutes later I was walking back up that drive with a check for $100 to help fight acid rain. Not to save forests or out of love of the planet, but because it was ruining the finish on those imported Carrara marble lions at the end of the drive — a point he raised, not me!
A few things strike me about this story. One, the 80s were a simpler time, when an environmental activist organisation could pull support in the US from a wider range of the political spectrum. I also had donations from right-wing conservatives who viewed the stance Greenpeace took against Russian whaling on the high seas as excellent work — because it aligned with their anti-soviet views. From Republican duck hunters who didn’t like chemicals pouring into the local rivers — because it poisoned the food source of their prey. From Daughters of the American Revolution who thought highly of work to save harp seals — because their little faces reminded them of their pet poodles. In every case, the story of why they should support Greenpeace was one which didn’t involve changing their minds, but reinforcing their own values.
These days, the idea of a US Republican of any stripe supporting environmental activism with a Greenpeace brand for any reason seems practically impossible to imagine — the lines have hardened, the tribes have congealed.
The second thing to remark is that that’s a shame. Environmentalism and the survival of the planet’s life support systems really ought to be a cross-cutting issue, regardless of your view on economics or social issues. As environmentalists, we should be actively challenging any confines that limit people’s sense of agency or involvement or welcome or eligibility to our cause. If a right-wing conservative wants to buy an electric car for nationalist reasons of oil independence, that car’s contribution to the reduction in carbon footprint is no less valid than one bought explicitly for the sake of the planet. Action against climate change cannot continue to be a single-party issue, or a differentiator between left and right.
In part one of this series we talked about the backfire effect and how facts that contradict a core belief can actually reinforce that belief. We’ve seen decades now of evidence for this in the failure of climate data to convince the right in the US of the urgent need for climate action. So how do we, as environmentalists, convert all those conservative minds to progressive values?
Why do otherwise rational people, confronted with facts that contradict their deepest presumptions and world view, generally reject those facts rather than revise their world view? Hint: the answer has something to do with storytelling.
The latest US political clown-car adventure into the looking-glass world of “Alternative Facts” may have thrown a spotlight on how stubbornly Trumpaphiles can ignore data, but here’s a disturbing fact: we all think we’re the rational ones, adjusting the story we tell ourselves to the facts and morally reasoning our way to sound conclusions — but behavioural scientists know better. And for those of us in the business of convincing people to change their minds, it’s surprising we don’t pay more attention to the science of this.
The environmental movement has spent decades spewing facts. Reports. Charts. Infographics. We generate Belgium-sized sets of facts every week, football fields of them a day. Science facts. Political facts. All of them pointing to the big fact: that we’re exhausting the life support systems of planet Earth. We’ve published sage step-by-step manuals telling industry and government how they can evade disaster. We’ve issued starkly clear individual behaviour change mandates. And still we’re hurtling toward the mythic inferno in the proverbial hand-basket.
“It’s because people are distracted by trivial things and you need to make them pay attention!” says Mister Fox, a bipedal figment of my trickster imagination, with a slightly sarcastic smirk and an index finger making an explanation point in the air. “You need to shout more. Put out another report! A longer one! With more graphs! If you can get them to listen, they’ll change their minds. And really, seriously, we both know it’s not the fault of the facts — they are perfectly clear. It’s the fault of those useless hipster “communications experts” drinking 5 Euro lattes and whining on Snapchat.”
Now I know Mister Fox pretty well, and I know when he’s setting me up.
And I also know it’s deeper than that. Continue reading “Tribes, Filter Bubbles, and the Backfire Effect”
I ran this day-long course last year twice, in Oxford and Berlin, and absolutely had a blast. It attracted a fine group of troublemakers from a wide spectrum of world-changing organisations: the Bible Society (“Everyone backs away when I say who I work for…”), ActionAid, Four Paws, Campact, the Transnational Institute, Greenpeace, the World Future Council, Compassion in World Farming, Gyro London, HERA… world changers of every stripe.
There was a magic trick with a bit of rope. There was some amazing, purpose-filled story telling. There was joy. There were tears. And I had the most rewarding experience when one of my students, a fundraising copywriter, wrote to thank me, saying she’d applied her learning at work the next day with unprecedented results.
All of us could use some better stories today. If we look around at the tales being told around our electronic campfires today, it’s obvious that the big overarching narratives that once explained the way the world works are breaking down. Facts are not winning. To reach hearts and minds and change behaviours, all of us working for a more beautiful world need to up our game. The stories we tell need to be epic. Inspiring. Engaging. Compelling. They need to make people crave to be a part of them and act to propel them forward.
On 20 March I’ll be presenting a slightly abbreviated version of the training at Westminster University’s Masters in Media, Campaigning, and Social Change programme — a rare academic programme for young activists. That session is for students only, but the session on 21st of March is open to all. Register today — space is limited, so quick as a fox, jump over that lazy dog.
I was invited by storyteller Simon Hodges to share a story tonight at his extraordinary every-4-weeks gathering in Amsterdam. There were some wonderful tales, magical myths, and fabulous yarns. I read The Moon Candy Rebellion for the first time to an audience that wasn’t a roomful of activists, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer crowd and setting. Simon’s created a glorious storytelling space, surrounded by art and full of odd, beautifully diverse seating from antiques to the surreal story teller’s chair to bean bags and blankets on the floor. It’s an event worth catching if your in Amsterdam for the next one on the 15th of December. Actually, it’s an event worth travelling to Amsterdam for. Have a listen to a tiny portion of Simon’s epic rendering of the Welsh tale of Lleu and Blodeuwedd.
As for me, this is the tale I told.
Every night, for many many years, I made up a bedtime story for my boys, Doon and Dylan.
I populated those stories with some very odd heroes — kind of enlightened troublemakers who would act up and be very very naughty, though often for a very good reason. And one day it occurred to me: I wonder if this has anything to do with my profession?
I worked as an activist with Greenpeace for 35 years. I went to sea to save whales, I went to jail for stopping a nuclear weapons test. I was surrounded by enlightened troublemakers. And it occurred to me that I might be making up for a lack of stories about those kind of people and the values they championed.
I was always jealous of parents who could pull a book down from the shelf about a teacher, or a firefighter, or a police officer, and point to it and say “That’s what I do. That’s what my friends do.” Because it can be really hard to tell a five year old that “when Daddy and his friends do a good job, sometimes they go to jail.”
Where were the bedtime stories that celebrated what Steve Jobs called “The Crazy Ones” — the ones crazy enough to think they could change the world? Not just the artists and inventors and entrepreneurs, but the activists? How many children’s books have you read that celebrate civil disobedience, or questioning authority, or challenging the status quo when it’s unkind, or unjust, or dangerous? When it tells little girls that they’re weak and can’t do all the things boys do?
There’s the Lorax, and the Butter Battle Book, and my great love, Pippi Longstockings. A few others, but not many choices for parents who want positive role models of boat-rockers. Of kids who meet conformity with creativity. Who conjure up beautiful disruptions to create a better world.
So I took the thrilling advice of Toni Morrison, and thought about the bedtime story I most wanted to read to my kids, and wrote it.
Now I promise this is a story not a lecture. So imagine you’re five. You’ve got your pajamas on. The pillows are plumped up behind you and you pull the duvet up to your chin. Are we sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
Here’s a recording of the reading. But if you were there, skip down to the one below to see Iris Maerten’s awesome illustrations.
We want to release this story in a big way — creative commons, open source, skipping over the publishing industry, going people-power direct and using that magical art of asking for help.
We’ll be releasing an early reader/beta version of The Moon Candy Rebellion as an ePub shortly, and we’d love to have you in on the hijinks we’re hoping to get up to. We’ve just set up a Facebook page, a twitter feed, and a webpage where you can sign up as a Moon Candy Rebel to get a copy in exchange for your feedback, suggestions, and input into ideas for how we get our little book into as many little hands as possible through some beautiful disruption, and how we can use crowd-sourced, #newpower tools to turn it into a real book you can hold in your hands and read to your child. Or yourself. It’s all about how we make courage more contagious, and raise up a generation equipped to resist despotism and create the more beautiful world of joyful abundance we all know is possible.
I want to live in a world that’s more like the TEDx event in Amsterdam. A place bubbling with optimism and enthusiasm and good ideas and beautiful people and the buzz of human connection. I loved everything about this year’s event, from the theme of #NewPower (Hat Tip: Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms) to the backstage assembly of the audience (we have all now officially been on a TEDx stage!) to the speakers to the gadgets to the vegan food served with edible spoons to the volunteers.
It’s hard to choose a top 3 among the brilliant ideas powerfully presented. Irene Rompa’s incredible reaffirmation of human kindness was the kind of spirit the world desperately needs more of: Continue reading “Thanks, TEDx Amsterdam”
My heart breaks for my homeland. My heart goes out to friends who have felt the hate of bigotry and misogyny and now feel the sting of further marginalisation. My heart fears for a future in which America rolls back decades of progress on the environment and social justice. And my heart freezes at the prospect of the arsenal of armageddon and the apparatus of a surveillance state being in the hands of a petulant bully.
But here’s what pains my heart the most: Trump just out-played every one of us who stands for change at our own game.
We were the ones pleading for systems change. We were the ones championing disruption. We called for the departure from the status quo.
Did any of us talk in the populist terms of a utopian vision like “Making America Great Again”? Did any of us really listen to the anger of rust belt white Americans and channel that anger toward upending a system that was crushing their futures? A system in which Democrats and Republicans were equally complicit?
We talk at them about climate change. We talk at them about dwindling resources. We talk at them about species loss. We talk at them with cautionary tales of the cost of failure.
We tried to sell people on a nightmare. We spoke in stories of denial, fear, loss, and guilt and wonder why people turn away.
Sometime back in the waning days of the last century, the Greenpeace information technology department was standardizing all staff’s email signatures to a horrible piece of text from a mission statement the organisation had written by committee, agreed by consensus, and promptly buried in that darkest recess of any NGO website, the governance section of the About Us page.
I was particularly aggrieved to see it dredged up into the light of day, as I’d written it.
Mister Fox is a passionate believer in the power of story. And he will yammer on about it at any opportunity. This is the third and final part of his discourse on Activism & Storytelling, which he delivered from atop a small hill, silhouetted by a full moon, to a wily band of radical animals who believed a better forest was possible, and that brave individual and collective action could make it a reality.
Level 3: Change the story, change the world. Beyond strong motivational narrative, beyond consistent organisational stories, the real gold, and the real challenge, lies at the invisible layer of story as the operating system of society. Continue reading “Activism & Storytelling: Level 3″
Mister Fox drops in regularly to visit with forest friends who run organisations dedicated to this and that. Mister Owl’s Wilderness Health Organisation, the Association of Unassociated Hedgehogs for Fewer Roads and More Hedges, and his favorite, the Henhouse Liberation Army. He likes to help them tell better stories so the entire forest understands who they are and what they do. Last week, he talked about how stories can help make for better communications. Today he’s talking about how story works at the level of their organisations.
Level 2: Consistent organisational storytelling solidifies your identity and makes social movements more efficient.
An organisation with a strong story can use that story to design and select its programme, to test its communications, and to be crystal clear to its audiences about who it is and what it stands for. Charity: Water’s founder Scott Harrison tells a beautiful story, of how he set out with the twin mission to bring safe clean drinking water to everyone on the planet and to reinvent charity for a new generation. That he managed to get that twin mission right into the organisation’s name is even more impressive.