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Storytelling In The News: #104

Thomas Friedman discovers the power of positive stories

March 26, 2004

New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, waxed lyrical on Sunday March 28 about the power of a positive story. It was as if he was "awaking from the dream". He had made up his mind about 9/11 long ago, which wasn't a failure of intelligence. It was a failure of imagination. He sees that we could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked — for the very best of reasons — people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together and realize that 19 young men were going to hijack four airplanes for suicide attacks against our national symbols and kill as many innocent civilians as they could.

Friedman says he is thinking about imagination a lot these days, because he's realized the people with imagination in the world right now are the bad guys. Friedman cites his friend, the Middle East analyst Stephen P. Cohen, as saying, "That is the characteristic of our time — all the imagination is in the hands of the evildoers."

Well not so fast there, Tom and Stephen. This website has been preaching the power of imagination to help the good guys, for a number of years. It's about time that the good guys learned to listen and grasp the power of narrative to spark the imagination. It's time we got over our obsession with the left side of the brain - the analytic aspect. It's time we started listening more to the right side of the brain - the narrative aspect.. The fact that NYT columnist Friedman is listening to the right side of his brain is surely a good sign.

Friedman says (and I'm going to quote him verbatim for longer than I normally do, because he's so eloquent on the power of a positive story)::

"I am so hungry for a positive surprise. I am so hungry to hear a politician, a statesman, a business leader surprise me in a good way. It has been so long. It's been over 10 years since Yitzhak Rabin thrust out his hand to Yasir Arafat on the White House lawn. Yes, yes, I know, Arafat turned out to be a fraud. But for a brief, shining moment, an old warrior, Mr. Rabin, stepped out of himself, his past, and all his scar tissue, and imagined something different. It's been a long time."

Here, Friedman is telling a story about the past in order to spark the possibility of new, positive stories about the future.

"I so hunger to wake up and be surprised with some really good news — by someone who totally steps out of himself or herself, imagines something different and thrusts out a hand."

In essence, Friedman is calling for -- what else but storytelling? He continues:

"I want to wake up and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that 10,000 Palestinian mothers marched on Hamas headquarters to demand that their sons and daughters never again be recruited for suicide bombings. I want to wake up and read that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Ariel Sharon to his home in Riyadh to personally hand him the Abdullah peace plan and Mr. Sharon responded by freezing Israeli settlements as a good-will gesture.

"I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and President Bush has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that gets over 40 miles to the gallon.

"I want to wake up and read that Dick Cheney has apologized to the U.N. and all our allies for being wrong about W.M.D. in Iraq, but then appealed to our allies to join with the U.S. in an even more important project — helping Iraqis build some kind of democratic framework.

"I want to wake up and read that Tom DeLay called for a tax hike on the rich in order to save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation and to finance all our underfunded education programs.

"I want to wake up and read that Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from ruling on the case involving Mr. Cheney's energy task force when it comes before the Supreme Court — not because Mr. Scalia did anything illegal in duck hunting with the V.P., but because our Supreme Court is so sacred, so vital to what makes our society special — its rule of law — that he wouldn't want to do anything that might have even whiff of impropriety.

"I want to wake up and read that Mr. Bush has announced a Manhattan Project to develop renewable energies that will end America's addiction to crude oil by 2010...

"Most of all, I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked John McCain to be his vice president, because if Mr. Kerry wins he intends not to waste his four years avoiding America's hardest problems — health care, deficits, energy, education — but to tackle them, and that can only be done with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team."

So if Friedman can get it, is it possible that -- just maybe -- other thinkers in positions of power can grasp the power of narrative to stimulate the imagination and help the good guys win.

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