How to drive big changes with better stories (Review of Alex Evans’ The Myth Gap)
This review first ran in the Jan. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Alex Evans
Eden Project Books
Who are we?
What do we believe in and stand for?
Where are we at?
How did we get here?
Where are we trying to go?
And how will we get there together?
These are the stories told during crises and transitions that galvanize movements and drive change, whether at work, in our community or across and beyond our country.
“Myths are the most fundamental narratives of all,” says Alex Evans, a Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, political advisor and climate change expert to the United Nations. “Myths don’t just explain the world; they explain us too.”
Not telling these collective stories leaves us with a gap, warns Evans. That gap gets filled by prophets of doom who profit by stoking fear, anger and division with anti-myths. They tell us it’s us versus them zero-sum world of winners and losers.
This is how we end up with political and business leaders who tell us that climate change is fake news and a hoax. Fighting it will be a recession-triggering tax grab so let’s pay no mind to the estimated $54 trillion cost associated with a world that’s warmer by 1.5 degrees Celsius or the $551 trillion tab for a 3.7 degree increase.
Arid technocratic jargon, pie charts on PowerPoints and appeals to rational self-interest are not the stuff of compelling stories that counteract anti-myths.
The same goes for enemy narratives that stoke shock, outrage and polarization and shift blame and responsibility to anyone or everyone else but us.
And then there are the self-fulfilling stories that traffic in collapsitarianism and dystopian nightmares. It’s the end of the world as we know it, there’s nothing we can do, all hope is lost and we’re all doomed.
But in the face of existential threats to our lives and livelihoods, we’re hungry for stories that give us hope for the future and that unite, rather than divide, us around a common purpose.
“The stories and myths that we reach for in such moments are what determine whether we use those moments creatively or reactively, for a larger or smaller us, for a longer or shorter now, for a better or worse idea of what constitutes a good life.”
Evans makes the case for telling stories about restoration, regeneration, rebirth and repairing the breach. “I think that tales of restoration are just about the most powerful and resonant kind there are. They speak directly to a profound yearning in all of us, an instinct that while the world may be broken, it can also be made right again, and that this may at some level be what we are here to do.
“As we relearn how to tell myths about where we are, how we got here, where we might be trying to go, and who we really are, we will discover extraordinary new capacities for creating the kind of future that we yearn for.”
It’s time we start sharing and filling the gap with better stories at work, in our communities and on the world stage.
Jay Robb serves as manager of communications for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books since 1999.