I won’t use the “u-word” (unprecedented), but things are far away from usual and have been for quite some time. But it’s moments like these when the world needs us, the storytellers, most. Our job, really our duty, is sense making. Seeing the connections between things in the world and bringing them to life through our chosen mediums and channels.
We look at the world and everything that’s going on in it and try to make sense of our place in it. Through that process we also help do that for others. I started watching Years and Years at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s an HBO drama starring Emma Thompson. I had to stop after two episodes because it felt a little too real as we entered unchartered territory as a species. But there’s a character in the show whose job title is, Storyteller. I found her and what she did so fascinating, especially in the context of global upheaval. And so essential. The griot of West Africa inspires me in similar ways.
This character, and griots, and all of us hold our stories. We tell them yes, but the sacred part of what we do is capturing the moment—the zeitgeist—and sharing and re-sharing it so we can work together to try to make sense of it all. We don’t have the answers, but we do have a sense of the possibilities. As human knowledge continues to expand, the vastness of how much we still don’t know becomes even more clear and stories that try to delve into that vastness become more essential.
Who are we? What matters to us? How does it work? Where do we come from and where are we going? And the biggest one of all, why? These are the questions we explore as we weave together stories. And as we attempt to find answers, we create a collective understanding of who we are as human beings.
From the film maker to the designer or social media content writer, we’re all contributing to understanding of who we are and who we can be. For better or worse. Hopefully more often for the better.
But it requires imagination and creativity. It (storytelling) demands of us that we push beyond what we know and assume to be true and play in the realm of possibility. Now more than ever, as our generation faces multiple global challenges, we as storytellers are being called to capture and influence the moment.
Some of the best brands, creators, and even athletes are heeding the call and sharing stories that matter. I have to be honest; I’ve struggled with my writing in the context of the pandemic and movements for social justice. I can’t write about it yet and words are my medium. So, what I’m doing for now is taking note as best I can, being open to seeing and capturing the experience and assuming that when the right story begins to take shape, that I’ll do the work to honour it and bring it forward.
For marketers, that means understanding how your brand can influence and participate in this moment in authentic ways (don’t just donate a bunch of money and move on). For creators that means diving in to how your chosen medium can capture the moment. For writers it’s about seeking out characters and circumstances and bringing them to life on the page (fiction and non-fiction). For each of us as individuals, it’s about recognizing our unique abilities and applying them in ways that contribute to our collective story.
I have a brilliant friend who collaborated with a company that specializes in foresight to imagine the future of women’s work. They created a soundscape to bring to life what the future might look like based on explorations of now and the near future. It’s called Memory Work. Quite frankly it’s super cool, but also a unique way to bring a story to life and capture the moment and what it may mean. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.
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In the meantime, the adventure continues.