Are stories dangerous? JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL, THE STORY PARADOX: How Our Love of Storytelling Builds Societies and Tears Them DownWritten on February 17th, 2022
“Change the story to change the world.” If story actually has that power – and I believe it does – then it can change for better or worse. In his new book, THE STORY PARADOX, JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL declares storytelling the best method we’ve ever devised for manipulating each other by circumventing rational thought. As new technologies amplify the effects of disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories, and fake news, he calls on us to stop asking, “How can we change the world through stories?” and start asking – before it’s too late – “How can we save the world from stories?”
Last July in an interview with Charlie Rose, President Obama said that “the mistake” of the early years of his presidency was his failure to be a better storyteller.
“The mistake of my first couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important, but the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.” In a second term, he said, he would “spend more time with the American people, listening to them, but also being in a conversation with them about where do we go as a country?”
This week’s show is not about Obama or politics. It’s about story and narrative. My guest is JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL author of THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL.
The late evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould called humans “the primate who tells stories…” And it’s not just Gould. Anthropologists have found societies that have existed for millennia without the wheel, but they’ve never found one that doesn’t tell stories.
My website leads with a quote: “On the radio, I tell stories of a world that just might work. As a consultant, I help you tell yours.” Building on time as a teacher, two decades in the entertainment industry, and 15 years of radio interviews, I help non-profits, foundations, public agencies, and businesses to tell better stories and build better narratives.
I’m eager to learn from Jonathan what the latest science has to tell us. Why is narrative so powerful? What is its evolutionary value? And can what we’re learning help us get even better at tapping its power?