Are you an Agent of S.T.O.R.Y.?
We’re living in a time when old stories of the world are breaking down.
More and more people are seeing and feeling it, as a sense of unease at the edges or a head-on reality gap collision. People are hunting for ways of making sense of the world that they can believe in.
And those of us with messages to share need to help them get there. The world we want is waiting to be made. But only if enough of us manage to make the jump.
The world is forked
We hear about what politicians have said, or see the stories the media are spinning, or what big business is getting up to, or read people’s ‘discussions’ on social media — and realise they don’t map to any model of sanity we have.
Perhaps we have the insight that these people have driven off the end of their tracks. They’ve found themselves in a world that doesn’t play ball with the internal model they’ve been building all their lives. That’s a hard thing. Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself.
A certain amount of flailing around is understandable. In many cases the response is to cling on to the old stories and do them harder.
Or, sometimes, we realise that there are other paths and we can take them.
I’ve always thought that one of the primary qualities of living things is adaptability.
Agents and midwives
One of the concepts in my map of the world is agency. It comes from thinking about cause and effect, and the interrelationships found in ecology. We are tied into the world, and our actions (or inaction) cause ripples that affect other people and the world around us, even if we don’t see the effects.
One person cannot avoid changing the world.
We might wish we could be insulated from this. It might look like significance and responsibility we don’t want. But even if we go off and live in a cave, we have made a difference by subtracting ourselves.
Better, I think, to participate. We can take up that responsibility, and whatever leverage our personal pebble-chucking ability gives us, and use it in service of whatever good we can do from where we are.
And if that includes having an insight and perspective that lets us see at least part of a new story of the world, embodying and spreading that is part of our agency too.
It might seem a small thing, like how to help people have better relationships or work through some trauma, or talking about better energy policy when your area is targeted for fracking. It all helps to build the momentum.
A new story of the world needs a large team of midwives.
A more beautiful world
I’ve been reading a book called The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein, recommended by a friend. (affiliate link)
It’s a good book, but it’s been a slow process because it’s a chewy read in a way that’s hard to put my finger on. Partly it’s that the style sometimes goes a bit dense and cerebral.
But I think it’s mostly because he’s challenging deeply conditioned ideas about the way the world is. Even as someone who’s had similar thoughts, I can feel the resistance.
Let me give you the basics. What he’s talking about is a cultural transition between Stories of the World (or Stories of the People): the underlying worldview that we act out of and reinforce in our interactions with each other.
The culture most of us in developed countries have been steeped in since birth is based on a Story of Separation. Inner is separate from outer, humans separate from nature, us separate from them. We make things happen by reaching a position of power and forcing them to happen.
More and more of us feel a sense of unease as we look around at what’s happening in the world. We see cracks appearing and hear of terrible events. Often we struggle to understand how and why people act that way. Maybe we work to fix it. Eisenstein says that’s laudable, but we’ll never truly resolve these issues while we’re operating out of the Story of Separation.
There are signs of a new story breaking through. He calls it the Story of Interbeing. In that view of the world, we all have gifts to bring. Our actions are significant and affect each other and the wider world. If one is harmed, all are.
He says a person’s transition between these stories cannot be forced or sped up artificially, though it can perhaps be facilitated or guided. It is an individual development journey of working through what we need to, processing it, letting go and passing through a period of pregnant uncertainty.
Most sections of the book are about big concepts from our model of the world, like climate, force, science, urgency, scarcity, pleasure, pain, attention and evil. He unpicks them, turns them to different angles and looks for what we can learn from them.
Your reaction to the book’s title is a good indication of whether you should check it out. I’ve certainly found it helpful, and find a lot to agree with even if I wouldn’t always put it in the same way.
Guides on the upward path
Eisenstein’s book certainly ties in with my thinking about worldviews and change. I’ve written about that on my blog, and I’ve got a book about it coming out soon.
One of my earliest conclusions about why people weren’t taking obvious (to me) environmental action back in the 1990s was that it was about stuff going on in their heads. And changing that by outside pressure is hugely difficult.
It also relates to the two mindsets — crowd and control — that I wrote about in a recent book called, er, Crowd/Control.
I talked about my big picture concept of the upward path in that book: pooling our best gifts and skills to make a happier, fuller, fairer world in keeping with our highest values and vision.
It’s all driven by the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories our society tells, about the way the world works and who we are within it. These become our attitudes, perceptions, habits and reactions. They become the face we present and the hill we fight to defend.
A lot of the stories that have been passed down to us are profoundly toxic. But as they crack and pieces fall away, people who were floating on them become even more frantic and desperate because they don’t see anywhere else to go. You can certainly see that in UK politics and media at the moment.
Every so often I am reminded of the Taoist symbol of yin and yang: that one with the black and white ‘tadpoles’ in a circle. Each contains the seed of the other. The symbol embodies the idea that one thing reaches its peak before its complementary arises.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
So those of us with insight-fragments of a better way are agents of some kind of process, even if we’re not used to thinking that way.
It’s down to us and our pocket torches to guide walkers on the way to the next turn, the next little circle of light.
Perhaps we can hold back the forces that beset them, to give them space to discover their own missions.
Perhaps we are the specialists who can give them the briefing they need.
So what’s your story? What can you pass on? What corners can you illuminate? Where can you nudge things along?
What kind of laser does your pen shoot?
This article previously appeared on my site Words That Change The World. Which you should look at. Especially if you’re interested in making a better world, what goes on in people’s heads, and how writing and design can help us get messages across.