{Mon 9 August 2021}   Which story will I tell?

Which story will I tell?

Every story has a purpose; does it have Purpose?

When thinking about Purpose, this photo of a sculptured relief of the nine Greek Muses in cream-coloured marble inspires me. In Greek mythology, they are the inspiration behind the arts, including literature and poetry.
Dance of the Muses on Mount Helicon, 1807

A third post about storytelling… this topic will not let me go! I mused first in Too long without a story about how storytelling is a universal human function and therefore mine as much as anyone’s. Then, in True prophetess vs false prophets, I considered how some stories tell urgent truths that are not heard and thus have no power to save us, and other stories tell lies that capture people completely and thereby render them powerless to save themselves.

That might seem a bleak view of storytelling, but I did end the last post with the assertion that “…millions of citizens also identify with and act on the truths in stories told with integrity.” Today I’ll consider two examples of storytellers who tell, and encourage others to tell, stories that can build and heal society: Sarah Rozenthuler and Ruth Hartley.

These two dear friends of mine do very different kinds of writing, Sarah for a business audience, and Ruth for a personal one. But both deal expertly with the impacts of the stories we tell each other and ourselves. Both exhort us, whether by careful argument or via compelling, courageous characters, to aim higher and be better. And both do this well because each lives their Purpose. Their motivation inspires me; it’s what I want to do if I can find a way.

Sarah Rozenthuler: Powered by Purpose

The cover of "Powered by Purpose" by Sarah Rozenthuler is white with the two main words of the title in black capital letters arranged in a cross at their shared "R" . The subtitle 'Energise your people to do great work'  appears in red in sentence case in the lower right quadrant created by the cross.  The design suggests that business is at a crossroads where it must tell a new story, one that reorients towards Purpose-driven goals.

Sarah Rozenthuler has just won a Thought Leadership award for her second book, Powered by Purpose, which coaches leaders to help businesses discover and co-create a deeply-felt, unifying Purpose to energise their teams.

In the corporate world, the… narrative of rampant individualism, extreme competition and scarce resources has thwarted our collective ability to create a thriving global community that treats people and the planet well. The drive for constant economic growth… is now at loggerheads with the environmental crisis creating pressure to review and renew our story…

There is a new guiding story beginning to emerge. Leaders around the world are discovering their power to become a force for good, not just for their immediate stakeholders but for society as a whole.

… purpose is the core and enduring reason an organisation exists. (It) is about pursuing a brighter future rather than turning away from a darker tomorrow… it has the power to unify stakeholders… it goes beyond addressing environmental, financial and social concerns by including the natural human motivation to serve others and connect with something ‘greater than’ oneself… to release the ’emotional capital’ of this untapped resource… purpose is the organisation’s ‘why’…. it contributes to the long-term well-being of all. It is the raison d’être of an organisation that people find meaningful because it connects with universal human values of what is ‘good’.

Sarah Rozenthuler, Powered by Purpose, Ch 1, p45;57-58

Ruth Hartley: Storyteller wielding STORYPOWER

The book cover of 'When We Were Wicked', a book of short stories by Ruth Hartley. The title in white text appears to be painted across an orange background. This background colour recedes at the bottom left of the book to reveal an old black-and-white photograph  of a woman holding the hand of very young girl in a short dress and straw hat on a busy street.

Ruth Hartley on her Storyteller site says that her books, of which the latest is the short story collection When We Were Wicked, express her understanding of STORYQUEST, STORYLIGHT, STORYCRAFT and STORYPOWER.

Storypower is a story’s ‘fightback’ capacity. A fightback is an act of resistance, or an affirmation of resilience.

The world changes, opinions alter, history is rewritten. Youth’s certainties prove false. Misinformed people made mistakes; we ourselves have erred. How can we find a way forward? Whom do we trust? Where is hope? Where love?

Let’s tell stories that fight back against cynicism and exploitation. Resist anything mean, petty, or unkind. Believe in equality, generosity and freedom.

Ruth Hartley, Storyteller website, Home page

The memoirs and stories in When We Were Wicked embody this ‘fightback’. Whether funny, ironic or serious, each story has a protagonist who struggles to see and know her true self and thus to find the will and the strength to survive.

Which Purpose will power my story?

Our human survival depends on the stories we co-construct, narrate and hear. Narratives of value do not have to be lumbering medieval morality tales. But they should inspire us to take the human project forward. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The question for me then is not whether storytelling is a valid alternative to the pursuit of lucre, but rather, which stories are truly mine to tell? I cannot answer until I know my ‘Why’. Although, as Sarah encouraged me, my ‘Why’ will likely emerge as I continue to pay attention while writing whichever stories come to me.

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