A Progressive Story-Book?

In last Monday’s Salon, Jennifer Buckendorff links two ideas in an interesting way: Her article The Oprah Way suggests we need to portray progressive values in a person, emotional way, and suggests that one vehicle to do so is through the use of stories. She explains how Oprah has told the story of gay interior designer Nate Berkus, who lost his life partner in the recent Asian tsunami, in a very engaging, sincere and heroic way. By doing so, she has changed the perception of many of her viewers — including non-progressives — of gays from a stereotype of stridency, excessive showiness and anger to a new archetype of humility, courage and sensitivity.

Buckendorff suggests that such stories can actually change people’s values. I’m not sure I would go so far, since I think values are pretty deep-rooted, but I certainly think stories can change perceptions, smash stereotypes, and enable accommodation of ideas and ideals that strike a common chord, and that’s worth doing.

There have been always been best-sellers about people, often ordinary people, who have chosen a different way and demonstrated universal human values — bravery, love, perseverance, self-sacrifice, patience, commitment, altruism. One recent book even told stories exclusively about people who quit their wage-slave jobs and started second careers making the world, or at least their corner of it, a better place. Why not compile a story-book that tells heroic and honest tales of progressives, not big-name political leaders, just average Joes and Janes who quietly represent these universal human values and who also represent progressive values, and whose stories are told in engaging, emotionally-powerful terms? Each chapter could present a new progressive archetype, and in so doing smash an old progressive stereotype. I think Lakoff would approve.

If we were to do so, what would some of those archetypes be, and whose stories would they tell? What future Obamas are today quietly representing progressive values in ways that can reach everyone, and start to draw us together in positive ways, in common cause?

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4 Responses to A Progressive Story-Book?

  1. Dennis Baer says:

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  2. Another Dave says:

    Two concepts mentioned in this piece, firstly Lakoff’s ideas (Reframing) and secondly, using stories to change people, I want to note that both concepts are integral to the methods used by NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming – a stupid name , in my opinion, for a bundle of very interesting observations on how we change our thinking). Many therapists use the concepts described in NLP theory to help their patients to achieve changes in the way they think or react.Richard Bandler, who started collecting these methods under the moniker ‘NLP’, in his seminars often tells seemingly unrelated, sometimes even mundane stories, that convey concepts that open up more choices to the listener in his own future behaviour.An interesting aspect of Bandler’s performances is that he sounds like a comic (e.g. George Carlin). He considers humour and laughter as a catalyst for change in values and thinking. You might want to look into his work. You might find some aspects of his work irritating, like I did (he uses explicit language, and sometimes tells stories that are obviously not true, claiming – and I can agree with him on that – that stories don’t need to be true to facilitate change), but there’s a lot to learn from him in how to construct good, persuasive stories.

  3. Another Dave says:

    Thinking back which stories influenced me the most, one main author comes to mind: Douglas Adams. It’s very characteristic of his stories that a lot of objects have their own life, like talking elevators, or the depressive robot Marvin (in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy series). I believe that this subtly teaches the reader how to feel empathy for other beeings (it surely had this effect on me). And empathy is a key concept to view the world ‘progressively’.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    AD: Absolutely: Empathy is definitely The Oprah Way. NLP is interesting — I wonder if it’s employed in brainwashing and cult activities?

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