Stories for a New Normal
In a recent post I asked what kind of heroes were appropriate for the new normal unfolding in the world. It’s clear they will be vastly different from the old ones. And the same goes for our stories!
The coronavirus is not the first pandemic in history – and it won’t be our last! We have a rich library about life during and after plagues, spanning over the last thousand years, whether it’s about the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century, the Black Death in the 14th or the Great Plague of London in the 17th century (to name just three).
There are two things we can learn about storytelling from that history
- During a pandemic we tell stories to entertain, distract and fact-check. These popular narratives include: conspiracy theories, bawdy tales, what-if setups, high drama scenarios & futuristic escape. Does this sound familiar?
- Once the pandemic dust finally settles, there is no going back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. Our existing stories, the ones that made sense of our old normal, are irretrievably broken. A corner stone of modern physics was developed by Sir Isaac Newton – theory of gravity – while cocooning at home in 1665 from the Great Plague of London.
The biggest challenge we face is this: our story has no closure. We see the challenges, but no resolutions.
History tells us we’ve been here many times before and we have two choices:
- We try to retell the old narratives to cover the gaping cracks created by the crisis. But these fragments quickly collapse into the cavernous holes left in its wake.
- Or we stare into the uncertainty and the unknown and after a time realise we are different now – wiser, more compassionate & more resilient. We begin to tell stories about the experiences and the insights that got to this point and how these can help us set our compass for a way out.
We tell about the lack of solid ground, the absence of a pathway ahead, the challenges of sitting with uncertainty, the faint outline of new possibilities emerging, the flicker of hope in the darkness.
Then, one small story at a time, we slowly begin to create a new normal.
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