Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, June 13, 2007day link 

 Story Fields
picture An excellent article by Tom Atlee, Story Fields.
A story field is

a psycho-social field of influence
generated by the resonance and interactions
among a culture’s many stories, events, roles, practices,
symbols, physical infrastructure, artifacts, cuisine, etc.

A story field shapes the awareness and behaviors
of the individuals and groups within its range.
It is the real-life field of influence associated with
a culture's Big Story, cultural Myth, or Metanarrative.

Our story field
frames what we think is real, acceptable, and possible,
and directly shapes our lives and our world,
often without our even being aware of it.
It shapes everything we see, think and do.

Change the story field of a culture
and we change what is real, acceptable, and possible..
I'm very interested in stories and metaphors right now. Stories are strangely powerful and almost invisible structures. One apparently simple story can guide the behavior of individuals and groups and countries. Yes, quite meaningful to call it a field. It is a self-contained, self-consistent package of meaning, which, if accepted, carries a whole set of beliefs and norms and behaviors with it.

There are various ways of working with that. Like, there is metaphors and stories as a therapeutical tool. A strangely effective technique for a skilled therapist is to simply tell a story. Not just any story, but if you have managed to pick up a structure of the person's situation, problems, etc, and you present them with a carefully crafted story with the same structure, but different content, and a story that actually gets resolved, it might act as a powerful metaphor for the person, and might translate into reality.

Likewise for any kind of communication to groups of people. A story or a metaphor can be worth a thousand pictures, each worth a thousand words, so to speak. If it is the right metaphor at the right time, it might change everything.

But stories is also simply how we manage to live within a common field, adhering to similar meta-beliefs, despite doing very different things and living different lives. And stories aren't necessarily just what can be told as what we recognize as a story, but they still follow similar principles. OK, back to Tom's article:
Consider an example. Many people around the world have a powerful (although not always articulated) sense of THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE. Probably the vast majority of Americans are actually motivated by that sense. We could describe it in terms of principles -- like freedom, individualism, patriotism, progress, mobility, property rights, the pursuit of happiness, and so on. But to fathom the compelling nature of The American Way of Life, we need to step into the stories that generate it. See what comes up for you when you consider the following evocative images: Pioneers. Cowboys. The Declaration of Independence. Manifest Destiny. Rags to Riches. Technological Progress. The World's Only Superpower. The Career. The Work Ethic. The Wise Investment. The Safety Net. Family Values. The Melting Pot. The American Dream. The War on Terror.

Each of these images and metaphors echoes with a thousand stories, myths, scenarios, visions, heroes, incidents, and so on, that show up over and over again in books, newspapers, TV programs, movies, songs, speeches, advertisements, conversations in bars and within families, and embodied in the streets, homes, policies and lives of America. This ubiquitous field of socio-psychological-narrative magnetism pulls on all of us to act, think, believe and see in particular ways -- and not in other ways. It takes immense effort to resist it or change it. To the extent any person, group or activity does not live within this story-sea and move with its currents, they don't seem quite American. They are suspect and often feel quite marginalized.
Notice that the story doesn't have to be true. That's not the point at all. The United States is not particularly more free than most other places, rather it is less free in many ways than most other Western countries. And most people really don't make it from rags to riches. But the story is very pervasive, and even large amounts of facts don't change it much.

A story can change of course. And some stories really ought to change. Read Tom's whole article for hints on how.

It isn't necessarily easy to change a big story, one that whole cultures live on. But it is easier if one has a certain awareness of the playing field. It isn't about arguing against the existing stories. It isn't about stacking up facts for or against. It is maybe about creating a better story. Stories can have many components, like imagery, sayings, archetypes, anecdotes, etc. A lot of that can be developed. But somebody has to plug into the whole thing, to tend the forest and not just the trees. There's a need for imagineers.

Also see Jon Lebkowsky, and read Wikipedia on Narrative Paradigm.
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