The best-selling bible of screenwriting, Robert McKee’s Story, dedicates its initial chapter to the purpose of storytelling – a quest for the universal human truths that bind us together. McKee says “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence”.
My life, as a journalist, author, parent and human, has been a search for story. I firmly believe that it is by hearing each others’ stories that we learn to see beyond differences in skin colour, socioeconomic background, faith and philosophy. Story brings insight, appreciation, empathy. From these flow compassion and tolerance.
The biggest story in the world today is the inauguration of the new American president.
What I find moving is how the entire globe seems to have invested so much hope in this one man. Listening to talkback radio today and viewing online comments it felt like the world had been starved of hope. As if we’ve been weighed down. Scared. Deadened. Left to winnow for meaning in consumerism and other hedonistic pursuits. (Ouch. Where did that sentence come from, Tim?)
Conscious of the weight of expectation on President Obama’s shoulders, I read his inauguration speech with anticipation. There were several phrases that stood out for me and numerous examples of powerful use of story (along with a forceful repudiation of the outgoing administration).
“We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”
“People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”
The context of the latter comment was a challenge to foreign ruling powers opposed to US interests. Nonetheless, it works as a stand-alone statement for all to absorb.
As to the President’s use of story, here’s a blog post from The New York Times’ Timothy Egan that sums up how the world was watching, seeking “a story to inhabit”.
Let’s hope we find it.