Bridging or Breaking? The Stories We Tell Will Create the Future We Inhabit

Jan 6, 2023 | News

Image by Mahmur Marganti from Pixabay

We are experiencing a time of deep uncertainty and change. Both the depth and speed of change are creating growing anxiety in our accepted norms, in our political institutions, and in our very sense of self. These changes are reflected in five critical, interrelated areas: climate change, globalization, technology, the economy, and migration. We don’t always appreciate the interconnection of these forces; indeed, we often try to deal with them separately. This is not only a mistake but also means that many of our efforts are inadequate and ineffective.

The rate and intensity of the change threaten to outpace our ability to adapt. This is widely experienced as stress and anxiety.

These forces are happening in virtually all parts of the world. Even our language and ideas are often inadequate to understand and develop appropriate responses to these changes. The stories we collectively hold are an important part of how we respond, and will help determine whether our responses will be up to the task. Leaders play an oversized role in helping to give energy and meaning to the stories we tell ourselves and each other. This impacts not just how we see the world but also our actions in the world.

So we need to interrogate the stories we have and identify what might be the most productive and life-affirming story that we can inhabit. And we need to find some ways to get there.

I hope it is clear that by “story” I am not suggesting a simple fiction—or that we can, in a facile way, just choose one story over another. Of course, we can sometimes choose, but our choices are often limited. Indeed, we are not fully transparent, even to ourselves.

That is just one lesson of the role structures play. We are often blind to the presence and impact of structures on lives and decisions. And one of the insights of cognitive science is that many of our intentions are implicit, meaning we are not consciously aware of what we are doing and why. We are not helpless, but we need to understand what we are facing and become more aware of some of our options moving forward.


 article from the winter 2019 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly

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 is director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley (formerly the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society) and professor of law, African American, and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
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