Expanding the social function of storytelling

At the Evolver Convergence two weekends ago, Daniel Pinchbeck uttered a line that has been echoing in my head ever since.  I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something close to “perhaps the reason for storytelling in cultures is about coordinating behavior.”

Coordinating behavior.  Wow.  Whether in a primitive, small-scale human hunter-gatherer clan, or our massive industrial globalized sprawling society, we tell stories not merely to transmit information critical to survival, but to coordinate our behavior relating to the information.  Stories aren’t just “I found a herd of buffalo–come this way.”  Stories have moral conflicts, often represented by contrasting characters, and they have problem solving (conflict and resolution).  Stories are built on our built-in process to make analogies–stories may even be allegories, which recursively tell two stories at once.  Our stories have models for action embedded in them.  Through our ability to relate emotionally, we imagine ourselves in the place of the hero, and we learn, through the drama of the story, what we ought to do to succeed.

The story of how we, as humanity, might achieve sustainability may not star a single hero.  It may not have an obvious villain.  Since we are the ones that made this mess, and the ones who are compelled to clean it up, maybe the (hi)story of how we might actually orchestrate such a change in behavior requires a hard, deep look at ourselves–at our natures as the source of incredible creativity, profound compassion, and devastating greed.  Thus, our new stories may look drastically different than they ever have.  My purpose in telling my story and in attempting to model the evolving discourse about the meaning of “sustainability” through the Sust Enable Project is to illustrate the lessons I learned so others don’t have to learn the same ones.  Films are great for this.  Here is a cinematic representation of the deep-level insights I unearthed about how one might “live sustainably”–do you relate, does it touch you, do you disagree?  Your process of engagement with the story is my top priority, but I know that the only way to get you engaged in the first place is to tell a masterful one.

Hence my attachment to the 90-minute narrative structure I studied and experimented with for many years in school while learning to become a filmmaker.  I still believe I could harness the structural storytelling power of this medium best.  However, I am learning that a film whose mission is to model sustainability on all levels of its creation, may need, at least at first, to consider how its medium may be more participatory (like sustainability).  Perhaps a more sustainable model for telling these stories isn’t in the somewhat “enclosed” format of a 90-minute feature length film, but in bite-sized episodes that evolve and connect with each other, web-like, based on how many folks interact with them and in which ways.

Stories are changing–the characters, the paths of action, the morals, these are shifting.  But what will always remain is the deep human need for stories, to guide us, to hold us rapt for a moment, to open us up to different ways of perceiving our worlds.

With my life, I am holding the space for telling the story of the evolution of the word “sustainability,” and implied therein, of our dramatic social process of awakening to the lived-importance of the constellation of behaviors we call “sustainability.”  My goal is to help with coordinating our behavior in relating to sustainability, but one single hero’s journey may not be enough to encapsulate the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in.  A multiplicitous, interwoven, webbed network of associations, traceable by anyone with a passion for discovery and action, may be a finer model.

Not sure what it will look like exactly yet… but while I am here on this planet, I am committed to holding this space.  If you join me, the space on this cultural edge grows even bigger.  So keep reading our blog.  Join our social networks.  And if you have a way you want to help, reach out.  And if you have some cash which you can share to this project, give it.  We and our intentions are interwoven as we author what may be the greatest period in the history of humanity.  If we coordinate, then we can write an epic.