24 February 2017
We live in a moving sea of stories. We tell stories about our past (“have I told you how I landed that great job?”), our future (“I’m planning to travel to Italy, Spain…”), we hear stories on the news, from our friends, advertising, movies, books... And these stories then become part of the stories we tell. There are individual stories, family stories, organizational stories.
The stories we listen to and tell are an essential part of the way we make meaning of our world, create purpose, and importantly they help determine the actions we take – individually and collectively.
And different stories view the world through different levels.
In my work with individuals and groups I hear stories operating at higher (more helicopter) and lower (more detailed) levels. If we don’t realise stories can be at different levels, it can get confusing, and lead to conflict rather than dialogue.
Let's consider two stories:
“Our purpose is to create long-term shareholder value through the discovery, acquisition, development and marketing of natural resources"
“Our vision is of a peaceful and sustainable world based on societies living in harmony with nature”
The first is from a mining company, the second from an environmental group. Taken separately they lead to confrontation – mining companies versus environmentalists. Taken together, it is possible to see how these two stories can be in dialogue with one another. The second environmental story I see at a higher level of vision when compared with the first mining story. In the big picture we need to live in harmony with our planet – it’s the only one we’ve got, and our fate, along with that of numerous other species, depends on it. And in the smaller, more detailed picture, mining supplies the raw materials for the majority of our industries. Stop mining, and the device you are reading this on will become a thing of the past.
I believe it is vitally important that we allow stories like these, that operate at different levels, to inform each other. If we encourage the mining story and the environmental story to be in creative, respectful dialogue, knowing that both have a place, we have hope of a truly sustainable future. If they remain in conflict, shouting at one another, we’ll remain stuck.
I suggest we consider the stories through which we understand the world, and upon which we base our actions. What are your higher level stories that help you make meaning of the world and create belonging? What are your lower level stories that enable you to work with the detail and help you thrive on a daily basis? And do your stories creatively inform each other?
This is applied mindfulness. It's important because our stories are creating our future.