We Grow Out Of Stories

For the remainder of this month i am building out a body of work around Storytelling in Social Leadership, exploring four key aspects: first ‘The Roots of Story’, exploring how we are surrounded by them, secondly ‘Sheltering in Stories’, which looks at safety and belonging, exclusivity and exclusion, thirdly ‘The Story of You’, looking at reputation, identity, boundaries and boxes, and finally, ‘Storytelling Through Change’, exploring the idea of Dominant Narratives and their fracturing and failure.

This builds upon work i have previously published: a full chapter in ‘The Social Leadership Handbook’, and ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’, as well as separate work on storytelling in learning (Social Learning Guidebook etc).

Unsurprisingly, this new work reflects and represents my current interests: culture and it’s fluid and fixed points, the mechanisms of social movements (and hence change), notions of self and safety, and the burgeoning reputation economy, amongst others.

Stories are everywhere, because stories are one of the basic mechanisms for the transmission of cultural knowledge: don’t walk down that street, cook pancakes this way, and i don’t like Charlie. We wrap stories around facts, around beliefs, around knowledge, around people and places. We use stories to paint pictures of the past, and for imagining our many futures.

We use stories to support other people, to impose our truth upon them, and to keep them silent or marginalised. We use stories to figure out ‘where we fit’, and then we use other stories to break out of those boxes.

Organisations use stories widely too: to describe who they wish to be, to tell you how they want to operate, to enable and to control you. They paint aspirational narratives of the change that they desire, and punitive ones of the changes that they fear.

Some stories are public: pasted up on the doors of the Town Hall, others are written into law, or into the hold scriptures of varied religions. Some are hidden away, private as your teenage diary, whilst yet others are simply held within our heads.

There is typically no great reconciliation of these: we never distil one ‘truth’ out of these many stories. And hence we are able to tolerate great ambiguity or conflict, whilst still seemingly able to function.

We are pragmatic consumers of story, as well as ardent warriors when we so choose to be.

Some stories are intended to be written again and again, personalised to you, democratised, given over to the reader. These stories can be made personal: ‘my story of…’. These stories can spread because there is no ‘owner’, and no hallowed truth.

Other stories are sacrosanct, you are explicitly forbidden to change them. The Bible is one, your Passport is another. They represent stories carved in stone and your choice is whether to believe, or to pay the price.

Some stories persist your whole life: the story of your life being one of them. Some persist well beyond one life: the story of your life may be one of those too.

Some stories are disposable: fun, irreverent, or irrelevant. Some stay within a community, family, or tribe, whilst others fly free.

None of this happens by chance or random circumstance: there are rules of storytelling and story consumption, rules of reading and listening, but they are rarely published themselves, and tend to be more relative and subjective than absolute and evidence based.

This work will form an exploration of storytelling: the story of me and you, the stories of us, the stories that remain the same, and those that change. In that sense, it will start by looking down, down into the roots of storytelling, and hence, in some ways, the roots of us.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Quiet Leadership, Social Leadership, Storytelling and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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