Telling a new storyDavid Korten’s writings often move me. They always make me think. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, a publication that always poses solutions instead of just pointing out problems.
In the August 8, 2011, online edition, he throws out a challenge to culture workers. He calls on those in media, education, religion and the arts to use their influence to tell a new story. He writes, “For better or worse, you are engaged in crafting and propagating the cultural stories that serve either to legitimate the devastation the old economy causes or shine a light on the possibilities of the new economy.”
Whether we stand in front of an audience or work in the broad field of organizational narrative, storytellers bear a responsibility that is, at the same time, an exciting opportunity. Our stories can shore up a status quo that keeps the world teetering on the brink of global disaster. Or they can engender a sense of possibility that will lead us to something sane and life-affirming.
I’m reminded of the four levels folklorist Barre Toelken once told me characterized Navajo storytelling. That was many years ago, and my memory has likely shifted the explanations to fit my own sense of the impact of storytelling. But roughly, these are the four levels:
- Entertainment: The first task of the storyteller is to capture the audience’s imagination.
- Education: Once imagination is focused, learning can begin.
- Spirituality: Here the possibility of transformation begins.
- Witchcraft: Only a shaman can safely tell stories at this level because they unleash forces that cannot be contained in less skilled hands.
From many directions we hear stories that seem to have skipped right over the third level and are wreaking havoc on our environment, economies, and family lives. They are told by culture workers who have sold their talents for pieces of silver, skilled liars whose arguments play out in election campaigns and corporate marketing.
Korten’s charge to artists is one storytellers can answer:
“Talented artists can help us see beauty, meaning, and possibility where it may otherwise escape our attention. They can take us on an imaginary journey to a future no one has yet visited to experience possibilities we may not have imagined. Our movement needs the contribution of millions of artists devoted to liberating human consciousness.”
The YES! essay is based on the 2nd edition of David Korten’s important and encouraging book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.