Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the power of story

I had a wonderful talk with Brett last night about how to convince people, to grab their attention, and to really push them in a direction that is against the mainstream, especially environmentally. In the end, what is required is a fundamental restructuring of our interactions amongst ourselves and our environment, guided by a new ethics. A complete restructuring of someone's ethical foundations is indeed a difficult task, and many of the changes we need to make in our lives as individuals, and our lives as a collective, will involve much sacrifice. But talking esoterically about sacrifice and philosophy only goes so far in nudging people to move against the grain. And so what I want to do today is elaborate a little bit on is the importance, as Brett mentioned, of story, and the power of real, live examples of people and communities doing things to make their communities, this world, a truly better place.

[For such stories, you need look no further than the recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize, which celebrates grassroots environmental efforts...

"The Goldman Prize views “grassroots” leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world. 

I heard about these awards from my favourite radio show, The Story. A couple of years ago, I heard Dick Gordon talk to Hugo Jabini, who along with Wanze Eduards was the winner of the 2009 Prize. From Suriname, Jabini and Eduards are members of a Maroon community originally established by freed African slaves in the 1700s. They "successfully organized their communities against logging on their traditional lands, ultimately leading to a landmark ruling for indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the Americas to control resource exploitation in their territories." In order to win the legal battles, Jabini actually went to law school to become a lawyer just to fight the loggers. How amazing. (You can listen to more of their conversation here.)]

Stories do have the power of encouraging and inspiring us, leading our normal, daily lives, to take extraordinary actions. Cliche, of course, yet powerful nonetheless. The fact that there can be a protagonist in the person you least expect makes the power of story all the more effective. Of course, a story is a story only when it is off-white, when it is odd and surprising, when it is slightly counter to what you would expect or extrapolate. More importantly though, I believe that stories allow us to assess the ethical dimensions within which the protagonists and the opponents are making their decisions, and allow us the possibility of placing ourselves in such situations, and wrestling with the dilemmas. So, I encourage you to take a look at these stories, listen to these conversations, spread the stories, and be inspired to be your own activist.

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