I’m steadily becoming convinced that stories – the narratives we tell about the world and our relationship to it – are the dominant force in the world. If true, change can only come if we tell new stories.
I’m still grappling with what this means. I was therefore close to ecstatic when I discovered that there will an upcoming virtual seminar to discuss this very thing and that others have been writing and thinking about the same issue.
The Reinvention Summit is aimed at the “change-maker, marketer, creative, consultant, or entrepreneur, ”recognising “the stories we end up believing directly shape our perceptions and experience of reality.”
Truth is nothing more than a perspective created by the dominant stories. Daniel Quinn, in his novel Ishmael, reiterates the same point. He asserts that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the human species. We are not fatally flawed, pre-determined to destroy the world. The reason why we are making such a mess is due to the myth we tell about ourselves. It is the story that we are playing out that is leading us to our destruction. The solution is to create a new story to enact.
Africans know all about story telling as ways to teach societal codes and to pass on a particular view of the world. An abundance of proverbs and metaphors are common currency in Ghana to raise children and also win political debates. But these stories operate at a local level and it is essential that story creation now extends to the international level.
The perception of Africa not just by the rest of the world but increasingly by Africans, is determined by those who live in a part of the world we call The West. The story we have been told about the way the world is, with its definitions of progress and development, were, I believe, initially created by financial institutions. We all perpetuate their stories, often unwittingly, because their perspective has become so dominant we cannot conceive any other could exist.
My blog posts on Talk Africa have attempted to question some of these dominant stories but presenting alternatives stories is not so easy!
Our language and definitions direct us on specific paths of action. If you adopt the title “Undeveloped” the only solution is Development”. If we divide the world in terms of economics, we cannot conceive of Africa in any other way than undeveloped, Third World and poverty stricken.
Why don’t we divide the world in other ways such as the way society organises itself (individualistic / communal) or with its relationship to time (linear / cyclical) ? Why has the economic story become so dominant that it has destroyed the possibility for any other? Do we need to divide the world? How do we find news ways to talk about the power relationship between the “Developed” and the “Undeveloped”?
The economic story carries a truth within it. It is a truth that is helpful to some but not to all of us. We have to find stories that are useful to us and that project our understanding and vision of the world. The challenge then becomes how we assert these ideas on the world stage when African voices are drowned out by power and wealth.
The time is ripe for the African story. Increasing dissatisfaction in the West with the rat race, disillusionment with consumerism and an understanding that our way of living is destructive, offers space for new narratives. Ironically, many Africans, especially governments, have become drawn towards these dying stories whose myths are gradually being exposed as lies. Those of us from the West need to lay bare the failure of these stories to bring happiness and those in Africa need to work on replacing them.
Will there be new African stories to redeem the world or will we continue to chase the old chimeras?