How might telling a "new story" have the power to help shift our collective trajectory?

Our cafe call is now complete (podcast available here) and so we are moving into the next phase of our conversation, which we invite you to continue here in the forum and out in the world.

Our great thanks to New Stories Executive Director Jeff Vander Clute and Great Transition Stories Executive Director Duane Elgin for being our main conversation starters for this juicy dialogue, and also to our special last minute guests David DeGraw and Joel Levey.  It was a pleasure having all of you with us and we look forward to further collaboration.

We will revisit our "Occupy a New Story" theme on the Vital Conversation for Monday September 10th, when we will explore the story "A Global Brain Awakens."  Please join us again for that call (time and registration details in the box on the right hand side of this page).

Meanwhile, this conversation continues...  In this next phase, we again invite you to engage one-one with people around you.  You can use the three questions that framed our conversation on the phone:

  1. When you look at the overall behavior of the human community -- the 'social average' of human behavior -- what life-stage do you think we are in?  Toddler?  Teenager? Adult? Elder?  Ask why that their answer, and perhaps offer your own as well.
  2. Next, tell them that most people on the call chose teenager and that there might be something valuable about digging into that metaphor further.  Then ask: "what was it in your life that moved you most powerfully from adolescence to adulthood?"
  3. Finally, you can invite them to play with the story a bit further around the question: "what does your personal experience suggest about ways to catalyze a shift to adulthood and about where we might see adulthood already emerging?"

Consider having this conversation not only with people you feel are generally aligned with your own beliefs but also with someone whose opinions you find challenging!  Share your own perspective too, but try replacing certainty and advice with curiosity.  Try asking: "tell me more about that," especially when you hear something that challenges you!

Please post your own thoughts below, as well as anything that emerges from conversations you engage in with others (note: you must be registered and logged in to post).  

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C.A., it's daunting to me mixing threads with different contexts, and adding even more context.  So, I'm missing your point(s).  Would you mind my asking you to respond specifically to each so I can understand you?  If there is a language barrier, of course I share responsibility for it, and in solving it too if I become aware of it.

I whole-heartedly accept your invitation of friendship and trust.  sincerely, Dyck

Just had the "Humanity is Growing Up" conversation with the young woman who cuts my hair.  I had planned to do this when I made the appointment, and then she took us in what appeared to be a different direction by announcing that she just got back from a week's vacation and had gotten engaged.  So we talked about her plans for a bit and then (when I felt like it wouldn't be rude to change the subject!) I told her I had been having "this philosophical conversation" with a number of different people and that I would love to get her take on it.

When I asked the first question--what stage would you say humanity is at?-- she drew a blank at first, wanted to know what I thought (I demured), then ruled out toddler and settled on teenager.  I told her how that was indeed the most common answer and then asked her about what had been the biggest driver in her own journey to adulthood.  "Getting married" was the immediate response!  That led to a really fun conversation about the ways in which she and her fiance are now thinking about their lives in a totally different way (they both still live at home), planning for the future and considering how to take on responsibilities like a mortgage, etc.

We then moved to connecting that piece to the possibility of humanity growing up and had a really nice interchange around what we see in the world and what we don't.  Not that she had some sort of obvious epiphany that moved her from resignation to possibility.  What did happen though, is that we had an engaged and alive conversation about things that mattered to us (at both the personal and the global levels), in a context of mutual exploration and possibility.  Lovely stuff!

A useful story Ben. "Mutual exploration and possibility." I hadn't considered the one-at-a-time power of these conversations... to plant seeds... to have seeds planted by all. 

Is this maybe related to how you've meant 'our new story'... one that we're creating with others in the right now?

I'm not sure where I used the phrase "our new story," Dyck, but I like the idea.  These "Great Transition Stories" are set in a global/cosmic context, while at the other end of the spectrum we have our personal stories, which can also be extremely powerful when shared, as you know.  

What I'm hearing you suggest is another level, akin to what Marshall Ganz refers to as "the story of we." 

Our stories of self overlap with our stories of us. We participate in many us’s: family,
community, faith, organization, profession, nation, or movement. A story of us expresses the
values, the experiences, shared by the us we hope to evoke at the time. A story of “us” not only
articulates the values of our community; it can also distinguish our community from another,
thus reducing uncertainty about what to expect from those with whom we interact. Social
scientists often describe a “story of us” as a collective identity...

For a collection of people to become an “us” requires a story teller, an interpreter of 
shared experience In a workplace, for example, people who work beside one another but interact little, don’t linger after work, don’t arrive early, and don’t eat together never develop a story of us. In a social movement, the interpretation of the movement’s new experience is a critical leadership function. And, like the story of self, it is built from the choices points – the founding, the choices made, the challenges faced, the outcomes, the lessons it learned.

Ganz also suggests that movement leaders need a personal "story of self" and also a "story of now," the latter of which can perhaps be seen as the category these Transition Stories fit into. This strikes me as something that maps quite well onto the space we are creating here in the Cafe, where we are beginning to imagine our conversations weaving all three of these levels together, or rather where we take a theme and address it at all three levels in varying conversational threads.

Ben (or anyone),  So after reviewing some of the Great Transition Stories, I'll ask this.  Is it fair to say these myths or stories are tools, made-up by someone to help us learn to broaden our perspectives, perhaps to think about something in new ways?

Oh, and yes, Dyck, I think "planting seeds" is a great way to think about what the "job" of this Cafe might be, (even if the metaphors are a bit mixed!).  That is also my understanding of the purpose of the Great Transition Stories--to be shared as a possible source of inspiration, shifting more and more of us into a context of possibility rather than resignation (or even "problem solving," which smacks of "reform" and which Block suggests will only give us a slightly better version of what we already have, not a future truly "distinct from the past".)

So Ben and C.A., This is helping.  But, indulge me just a little further as I need to go a little slow... I recognize there's something important around Story or Myth (apparently slippery to me) in this discussion that I'm just starting to get a taste of.  My attention is drawn now to the Results (what a story does to receivers of it) and HOW it gets or has gotten created.  

Let me propose an initial definition (feel free to propose yours): A story is a group of words representing a happening (past, present or future) and which can be based on fact or fictional or a combination.  A story can be 'sent' (told, written, drawn, played, acted out...) or 'received' (heard, read, seen...). To extend this, A Myth, primarily from the past and without determinable basis in fact, communicated in words, is a somewhat more abstract or embellished representation of story, altered perhaps organically, to help bridge limitations of our senses.

'Teller' intentions or results can be to inform, to clarify or learn for herself, to teach, to gain attention, to stimulate others to act, to sell, to deceive, etc.. How created: personal experience, imagination, spontaneous

'Receiver'  intentions or results might be to be entertained, to learn, to be stimulated to act, to buy, to test or critique, to judge, to manipulate or deveive (feigned listening & engagement)

It seems receivers can become tellers, naturally.  I don't know if this phenomenon can be manipulated or controlled artificially for gain.  How created? Popular stories satisfy some need in many people so they begin to 'use' them for their purposes. Stories will then necessarily change due to language, motivations, perspectives, etc.. Results: complex and varied, speculative re societal or global shifts.

Lastly, for clarity I ask do you think your intention is to use popular old stories or myth as a way of freeing our thinking to envision future (only as a tool)?  Or, is it to make use of these old myths and to change them into new ones?  Is it to use them (plant seeds) and then produce our own stories (which will some day become myths).  Is it to just use these and see where it goes?  Do we have a purpose to guide ourselves, and then our global civilization, to radically new ways of thinking... of behaving?

Hi Dyck - Sorry I haven't responded to any of your comments earlier but with your latest post I guess you sort of touched an important issue for me and that is

"...I recognize there's something important around Story or Myth (apparently slippery to me) in this discussion that I'm just starting to get a taste of...." 

Your definitions are obviously accurate and your illustration of the use of story is also appropriate.  I am not in this case speaking  for Ben nor for the 2 conversation starters, Jeff and Duane, who have created the Great Transition Stories wiki.  My personal story started on the day of the 9/11 tragedy and as I sat in my office at work and pondered the horrendous nature of what happened I could not fend off the feeling I had that the world needed a New Global Myth.  I had no idea what that was and when I mentioned it to friends and family I received strange looks of concern!!  Needless to say 10 years later inclusive of an intense process of reading the works of scholars from a wide range of fields I began to see a pattern in their thoughts that all alluded to a similar idea.  Last year Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker produced the documentary "The Journey of the Universe" which finally gave me the seed around which to create a presentation I have been giving here in New Hampshire which I titled "Humanity and the Long Journey". 

My posting back on Tuesday goes into a little more detail of what my focus is but to respond to your question ...

"...My attention is drawn now to the Results (what a story does to receivers of it) and HOW it gets or has gotten created...." interpretation of the writings of many scholars is that in order to create a foundation for a shift in the way any given person on this planet views life a new Creation Story would be needed.  Science has given us this and as Brian Swimme states "...we need only wander about telling this new story to ignite a transformation of humanity..."   Now I believe it will take a little bit more than just 'wandering about' but the fact that this new Creation Story exists and is real can have the type of influence (through wonder and awe and appreciation of the beauty of all that exists) they are looking for.  Bill McKibben actually stated to Tom Ashbrook in an OnPoint interview in June when responding to what it would take to change people's attitudes about the threat of global warming he stated that it would be easier to solve this problem if we ALL belonged to a nature based religion but unfortunately there is not enough time to wait for that evolution to take place.  I guess I am one of those wanderers that Brian referred to and I have been amazed at the intensity of positive reactions I have received from my audiences. 

I view the 'old stories' that created the major religions of the world as offering humanity a way of dealing with our 'internality' which is the purpose that these traditions have always served when utilized in a humanistic fashion.  The advances of science, in addition to revealing deep insights into our 'internality', are also giving us a deeper and broader understanding of our 'externality' which is where I am focusing my effort for now.   I don't know if this offers any hint of purpose around story from your perspective and there is a lot more that could be said and not anywhere near enough space to do it here.  Tomorrow I hope to be speaking to Michael Nagler who is working on a project for creating change that includes as one of its pinnacles a New Story Creation phase.  His project is much broader in scope than just the creation of a story and you can peruse a PDF file he has on his site that is a Roadmap for the project at this link:

I look forward to your thoughts and your comments!!

I probably should see "The Journey of the Universe" to see what's so inspiring to many here.

The way you speak of the how you saw that the world needed a New Global Myth after 9/11 it sounds like you had instant clarity about a lot of stuff... like maybe some of your own social paradigm crumbling, or perhaps some of the common American social conditioning having no real premise of validity, and perhaps some reconstructed, more accurate vision.

I don't really understand the propulsion to fix the world but I know it's strong in many, perhaps myself as well.  This seems quite different from the propulsion to serve.  Yet both can have a similar goal.  The propulsion to learn or seek the truth is also fascinating to me as this relates to fixing versus serving.  Maybe that's enough said as this implies my dilemma.

To look to science for wisdom seems to me like thrusting responsibility too soon on teenagers. But, perhaps there are appropriate tools, like various discoveries or technologies of the day, even the Roadmap.pdf, that are useful in our individual journeys.  This is even acknowledging the spiritual journey has no need of worldly knowledge whatsoever.  Perhaps some will be helped by science to come to the right spiritual questions, if that is their destiny.

It is so complex for me to hold all these dual notions to create my own story or myth or vision about something so broad as 'the world I wish to live in'.  Yet I feel I can do this in limited scope. For example I see it is possible to raise my musical vision in order to be capable to teach myself to produce that vision.

  • Having Vision versus Living-In-The-Moment...
  • Having Conditioning & Bias yet Creating a Story Free from Them...
  • Accessing One's Higher Self yet Using Thinking (lower self) To Do It...

To build a 'life construct' considering these attributes seems ultimately spiritual, learning about illusions & ignorance, very personal.  So, it's hard for me to see how a global Myth gets created without the same demon and dimension of money in politics.

Hi Dyck - I think we are all 'serving' - each in our own way - and propulsed or compulsed by forces that are deep inside of our psyches.  I don't feel that we are trying to 'fix' the world as much as trying to find stories, and ways of telling them, that will 'awaken' those that are unconsciously asleep or living in bubbles of existence that are created by their egos.   It is a struggle, no doubt - I agree whole-heartedly with the final 2 statements in your last post. 

The foundation that has influenced me are the writings on Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry and those scholars that have been mentored by them and it would take to many words to capture the essence of their ideas here but I can recommend a book written in the 90s that presents the subject in a compassionate manner - "Earth Story, Sacred Story" by James Conlon.  Also check out this trailer for a new documentary currently in production (includes comments by Duane Elgin) -

I wish there was a more convenient forum space to pursue this subject in an open-ended manner with more focus and depth without restrictions regarding time but so far I have not found it - guess I have to start my own forum or blog to get there.  Project for next year??

Sorry CA, I should have been more clear!!  By those 'serving' I mean the likes of those on this forum and the many others that are straining to unveil ways of changing who we are and how we behave.  A mighty challenge no doubt but one that requires the faintest sense of hope in humanity and the time to pull it off.  It is easy to be skeptical in this day and age but it is courageous to be passionate about the possibilities!!!

So, in your first paragraph, Richard you've hit on what chimes my bells.  It's about me learning what it is... to serve others without the self completely.  Thank you!


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