Stories Are Tools Not Truths

Stories Are Tools Not Truths

Matt Church

Matt Church

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Published by Matt Church – Founder on 6 July 2022

Stories can define us and perhaps diminish or even distract us.


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I was listening to historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, discuss the Russian/Ukraine conflict back in March 2022 here and he started by discussing the narrative fantasy that Putin holds around folding Ukraine back into mother Russia and how this conflicts with the established historical stories of Ukraine as a sovereign nation-state preceding even the establishment of Moscow. We have a war that is built on a primary story that doesn’t seem to reconcile, a ‘narrative fantasy’. Stories are powerful and they are dangerous. History shows example after example of the danger and tyranny of a story designed to manipulate perceptions. This says to me that we should hold the stories we tell ourselves lightly and be careful taking on stories of others. We all carry stories, some unconsciously, the stories we tell ourselves can limit us and cause conflict both within us and between us. Sometimes, the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, diminish us as they keep us small, or locked into a mindset that is out of date or in the case of Putin, convenient. Don’t get me started on the US, Rowe versus Wade ruling.

At a personal level, I am experiencing the end of a set of stories created decades ago about what my life looks like when I am 60 (not there yet) and I realise that the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell the world, and the stories we hold around what is true are all open to interpretation. Sometimes our stories define us, for better or worse. Don’t let stories rule your life, instead be willing to rewrite your stories, especially the kind of stories we continue to tell ourselves to feel safe but that is simply not true.

In military strategy, there is a saying that no strategy survives the first contact with the enemy and perhaps no story survives first contact with reality. If you believe that we are not our thoughts, and we see that stories are simply narrated thoughts, with characters and scene changes, then we get to hold stories as truth very, very lightly.

Stories are the primary vehicle for the transfer of knowledge in many First Nations people. The 70,000-year Indigenous tradition of the Eora people here in Australia uses stories to transfer information around the flora and fauna, navigation, social wisdom and deep ways of knowing.

In our curriculum, we teach that stories are a device we can use to deliver points of view. Specifically, we share that a well-crafted story can deliver content in a deeply relevant and engaging fashion. Stories are Trojan horses for layered meaning, they open up minds and have the ability to shift points of view in a subtle and gentle fashion. A story is held in the mind of the listener, reader and opened slowly like a well-wrapped gift. There is a wonderful sideways, adjacent quality to sharing information via story. Elegant stories transmit nuance and allow for co-created meaning, a gentle, non-tyrannical communication experience.

We then go on to teach that when you command the context as a leader you have greater influence on the events around you. If stories come from the bottom of our Pink Sheet ‘Content’ (Read more about that in our Pink Book: Think) and ‘context’ is driven by the top of our pink sheets, we get to see stories as tools, not truths. This then frees you from the static and fixed meaning baked into many of the stories we tell about ourselves or that others tell about you. Stories might very well be gold, but context is royal.

My suggestion then as thought leaders is that we share our stories widely but hold them lightly.


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