Sunday, January 13, 2008

Telling the Story

The first weekend Intensidency (or is it Resitensive, a mash-up of intensive and residency) at BGI just wrapped up. I am seated in the waiting area for gate A10 in SeaTac airport, a gate I have become quite familiar with since the start of my BGI adventure in October. There is a Nor'easter sweeping up the Atlantic coast toward Boston this evening. I am optimistic that we will make it, but I could end up in...somewhere else. The storm is forecast to arrive with some ferocity at about the same time as the flight is due to arrive. (image courtesy of The Story of Stuff)

The field of "sustainability" is about telling the story of a global economic system that values social, and natural capital with the same veracity and passion as it values economic capital. This was reinforced for me over the weekend through two stories; one about "stuff" and the global economy and one about a T-shirt. The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard is a web-based 20 minute video that provides a baseline introduction to the hidden problems with our linear production systems associated with the consumer economy. Depending upon one's outlook, it can be depressing, interesting, exciting, infuriating, and maybe all of the above. It is worth watching.

The story a small company sells about its products and services can sometimes make all the difference in their success in a sea of competitors. This became clear to me as a classmate of mine related the story about a T-shirt. The ubiquitous T-shirt, churned out in their millions all over the world, chock full of platitudes, one-liners, political commentary, and cheap graphics. But this T-shirt had the phrase "Board Meeting" on the front with a small stick figure names Jake catching a wave on his surfboard. The phrase "Life is good" was on the back of the shirt near the neck. Why is this story important? The person telling me the story connected with the message of the company that made that shirt. She loved that shirt and what it represented. She connected with the story the company told with its simple message to take it easy and loosen up. The company, Life is good located in Hudson, NH made something that spoke to my classmate...they "got it" for her.

What will engage people in the collective effort that is required to affect the changes we feel are necessary to change our systems to support future generations? What are the questions we need to be asking to challenge the status quo and invite different thinking about problems? How do we energize people to attack something that seems to big and unwieldy? Stories can help. Stories are a way to engage people in a way that does not seek to cast judgment. They can be powerful tools to change a person's perception of an issue, or at least to potentially look at it differently.

What is the sustainability story we are writing and telling?

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