I am revisiting and reprinting this blog as I feel in our current circumstances the issue of personal, social, political and corporate narrative looms very large. Whether in the interplay of vision and narrative in the recent (and it seems ongoing) election in the United States, the Brexit vote or even just a simple rally around an impending new carbon tax here in Alberta, competition between Legacy media and emerging Social media around framing the narrative of issues has become fierce.
The Struggle for Identity
Businesses are not new into this milieu. Every company seeks to create a unique culture around its own story. Whether this is part of driving unity and engagement with its staff or as part of a larger marketing strategy to the public, many companies have engaged in this practice.
A really good example is the recent Alberta Treasury Branch marketing campaign that states “Every life has a song and we are listening.” Included in this campaign is a song called “Resonate” that seems to have connected with people. The chorus talks about “finding my way back home.” It is actually a good reminder that our narrative is “our” narrative. We own it and no one else. How we see ourselves is the key to understanding how we find a place in our society.
The Power of Story
In the field of Narrative Psychology, we are beginning to discover just how powerful our "stories" are. You may have heard the accounts of primitive tribes where stealing was considered taboo, so much so that the thief would have the hand that they stole with wither up and atrophy. We marvel at accounts like this that speak to our susceptibility to the power of suggestion. And we are now discovering the impact of the power of suggestion and in particular how powerful it is when we are writing that narrative.
How You Write Your Story
The biggest story we write is our story. We create setting and context, heroes and villains, and arrange the events of our existence into some kind of coherent whole that gives our lives structure. This is meant to underscore and reinforce essential truths that we have created about ourselves. These are broad landscapes indeed with family legends passed down from grandparents, parents and relatives playing a vital part of this. Stories such as "the women in our family have always been healers." These traits then get woven together with personal history "I have a real gift of helping the sick and volunteer time at the local hospital." Thus they become part of this elaborate story that we create of our lives.
Sometimes the events of our lives take on mythical proportions which is not to suggest that we are lying or deluded. Rather we construct our stories to reinforce what we choose as the high (or low) points of our personal identity. "I was a tom boy and I climbed a 1000 trees and beat up a hundred boys when I was young!" We even make fun of those narratives such as the standard "When I was your age I walked ten miles to school, in bare feet, uphill, both ways!"
Positive vs Negative
It is this part of our "story" that can get really interesting. We create both positive and negative qualities for our main character - us. We will have a mix of both but some folks will be more positive and some will lean toward the negative side of things.
Redemptive or Contaminating
Our stories tend to fall into either redemptive (overcoming an obstacle and succeeding) or contaminating (once everything was perfect and then "something" happened that changed all of that) genres. In redemptive stories our protagonist (us) is heroic and dynamic. In contaminant stories our protagonist (us) is more passive and tilts toward being a victim.
Our stories are very powerful indeed and we filter everything through that lens. So my question for you today is this: "What is your story?" Are you a hero or victim? Is your story redemptive or contaminating? These are important questions to consider not only for personal reasons but also because of the impact that your story can have in your work, career and relationships. What do you expect for yourself at work and why? Good things or bad? Do you deserve that promotion or not? Your personal narrative will be at play in how you answer these types of questions. Take time today to exam your story and what it says about you. Does your story hold you captive or set you free?
All The Chapters Are Not Written
By the way; in case you aren't happy with how you see your story remember this; the last chapters are still waiting to be written and you can change that narrative any time you decide you need to. Performance Leadership – Think About It!