The Story of Self, The Story of Us, The Story of Now

Another discovery from the storytelling workshopMarshall Ganz, community organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ganz believes humans tell stories to convey hope and motivate one another to act. He identifies three types of stories as powerful tools for social change (from a 2009 article “Why Stories Matter” published in Sojourners):

1. The Story of Self. Why do you do what you do? How are you (and your commitment to your mission) unique? How did you become who you are? An organization’s leaders should know their stories of self. We all should. A clear, compelling story of self helps others understand and respect our motivations for acting and may motivate them to act as well. The story of self builds relationships. Season 5 of The Wire presents a terrific example. A fictionalized Baltimore Sun faces newsroom buyouts and a rapidly changing media landscape. Disgruntled, two veteran reporters trade stories about why they became newspaper men. The first recalls his father’s sacred morning routine of reading the newspaper, uninterrupted, for 15 minutes over breakfast. He remembers wondering as a child–what could be that important?–and wanting desperately to become a part of it. His colleague recounts riding a bus as a teenager and observing as a man solemnly, and very precisely, folded his broadsheet and he read the paper through, page by page. The journalist remembers thinking, “there’s the smartest man on this bus.”

The Baltimore Sun newsroom on HBO's The Wire, Season 5

2. The Story of Us. What values and experiences do we share as a community that make us understand one another and act together toward common goals? For me, this could be the museum community, the arts community, the nonprofit community, the D.C. community, the food-loving community, the global community of human beings. When we hear stories of us, we discover our values have already banded us with others. The story of us motivates.

3. The Story of Now. What discrepancies exist between our values and the way things are? What are we going to do about it? The story of now sets a strategy in motion, sets us working together toward common goals for change.

Professional communicators–I’m curious–do you recognize some of the core components of your messaging goals in Ganz’s story types? Are these types in line with stories you’re crafting for your organization?


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