Storytelling is fundamentally human. Stories give meaning to our lives and make connections between people and across generations. Stories can also mislead us in ways that reduce our ability to think clearly, respond thoughtfully and seek the best obtainable truth, especially when emotions run high. In his TedX talk, Tyler Cowan, an economist, warns us to be suspicious of stories that oversimplify the messiness of our lives in exchange for media hype.
Be particularly wary of drama-based storytelling applied to the most important issues in our lives. In these stories, there are only three characters: the Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. The Persecutor’s character believes everyone else is the problem, the Victim’s script says they are the problem, and the Rescuer’s lines reinforce that they are the solution for everyone else’s problems.
The storylines are predictable: good vs. evil, hero saves the day, a stranger enters town, setting out on a journey, avenging innocent lives lost. These stories reduce the natural complexity of life into bite-sized media hype that only makes the drama worse.
Drama-based story telling lowers our emotional intelligence because it stirs up feelings we need to experience but don’t enjoy, and then offers us shallow solutions to make them go away.
Intimacy, responsibility, vulnerability, autonomy, assertive anger and grief; these are natural emotional responses to our messy world that need authentic and healthy expression.
When there’s a school shooting in a middle school in Texas, or a presidential meeting in Helsinki, the media would rather stoke drama-based storytelling than offer us constructive ways to wade through the real work of compassionate, thoughtful and emotionally intelligent conversation.
Compassionate accountability turns drama-based storytelling into healthy conflict with openness, resourcefulness and persistence. What kind of stories do you want to tell?