I was chatting with a friend today who works in the financial services sector. She isn’t a banker. Let’s call her Amita. Amita watches the telly on Sunday – I didn’t know the show, so I’ve forgotten its name. In any event, someone from the St Paul’s site was on the show. Amita was excited – she’s been curious about Occupy, wondering ‘What do they stand for?’ and also vaguely inspired by them – people setting out to drive change. When the show wrapped up, she wanted to throw a shoe at the TV. ‘I think that person did the Occupy people a disservice’ she suggested. This is the story of what happened, of how Amita went from having an open and engaged mind (and perhaps heart) about Occupy to relegating it to something she might read about in the papers or hear about on the telly occassionally, but not connect with in any meaningful way.
Apparently, the Occupy guest on the show was asked: “What does Occupy stand for?” He said it was for a better world and listed all the things he didn’t like – for example – about capitalism and public transport. He made policy suggestions. He was wearing the ‘V for Vendetta’ mask. Amita observed: “He basically wants a perfect world. A perfect world isn’t going to happen.” In some ways I wanted to suggest to her that it certainly won’t happen if we don’t believe it can happen, but I heard what she was saying – that it all felt very idealistic and, in turn, unrealistic and thus futile. And for Amita, this was a turn off. What really frusrated her with the Occupy guest, however, was not what he said. It was the mask. She explained that it was hard to listen to someone with a mask. You couldn’t see his face, you couldn’t really see his eyes – “How are we supposed to trust him, if he is hiding behind a mask?” she wanted to know. “He could” she suggested, “Wear a badge of the mask or have the mask pushed back on top of his head – so the symbol is present. But wearing it like that, covering his face – it doesn’t help.”
I found myself agreeing with her. I wondered why he didn’t tell a story – a personal story. I explained to Amita my take on what she was telling me: That guy was failing to connect with people watching him, and if we expect to create change in the world we need to engage and connect with people who are interested in knowing the answer to the question “What is Occupy about?” Wearing masks and giving endless lists of ‘things to be changed’ are offputting, dis-engaging.
Liam Barrington-Bush (@hackofalltrades) and I once started to collaborate on a joint post about the subject of what is Occupy about. We never did finish that collaboration – who knows, we might come back to it in the future. Regardess, we both strongly agreed that we would like to see the Occupy sites be sources of stories about the change we want to be and see in the world. Occupy sites, along with various projects in all sorts of communities around the world, are all spaces where people are experiementing with different ways of how we can live together. We’d love to see Occupy sites (in all shapes and forms – not just the obvious ones like St Pauls or Bank of Ideas) spreading their stories of living the change we want to be/see – including the challenges faced and how these challenges are addressed. Or perhaps even putting questions out there to people – asking for ideas on how to address some of the more difficult ones. We can tell our stories in order to share, learn, grown and expand.
The obvious physical sites of the Occupy Movement (I know, I know, a lot of people have problems with that label…I find it a useful shorthand) can be symbols of the belief that we can create a different world. People that speak about Occupy can spread this message – and, yes, I’m repeating myself here, I know – We can create a different world. A world that is more compassionate, creative and collaborative. A world that nurtures and lifts up the Human Spirit – individually and collectively.
But I think Amita was right – we are unlikely to spread such a message hiding behind masks and giving shopping lists of what needs to be done. More stories, please. More stories that help us connect as human beings. Stories that awaken, engage and connect hearts and minds. Stories that stir something in us, enliven us.
I just googled ‘quotes about the importance of storytelling’ and these two quotes caught my eye:
“A story is the shortest distance between people.” Pat Speight
“Storytelling allows you to hear the soul and spirit of words.” Vi Hilbert
I would add to that last quote: Storytelling allows you to hear the soul and spirit of our shared humanity. Let us tell our stories, so we can reconnect with one another – and together create a different world.
And that’s the end of my story. I make no claims to this little story being as engaging, heart-awakening, mind-expanding as the types of stories I think we need to hear more of….but the point stands – let us tell more stories, in order to occupy hearts and minds.
Hi VeenaI can understand why your friend felt that what she heard was unrealistic. And I agree with you about stories connecting us. I’ve just read Paul Mason’s (@paulmasonnews) ‘Why it’s kicking off everywhere’ (which builds on this blog he posted last year http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html). In relation to your friend’s reaction, I think the concept of capitalist realism which he shares helps to locate this sense of unrealistic dreams. Mason gives Mark Fisher’s definition of capitalist realism: "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economical system, but that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it … a pervasive atmosphere conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining action". Having not been involved in any occupations or offline campaigns in recent years, I was interested to read that "An obvious but unspoken cultural difference between modern youth protest movements and those of the past: anybody who sounds like a career politician, anybody who attempts rhetoric, espouses an ideology, or lets their emotions overtake them is greeted with a visceral distaste". It sounds as though the programme your friend watched found someone who would speak in an ideological way, rather than sharing stories. And in addition to the stories I find something so inspiring in the act of occupying sites, again from Mason, quoting Keith Khan-Harris who says that what we’re seeing is the ‘movement without a name’: "A trend, a direction, and idea-virus, a meme, a source of energy that can be traced through a large number of spaces and projects. It is also a way of thinking and acting; an agility, an adaptability, a refusal to accept the world as it is, a refusal to get stuck into fixed patterns of thought."Bring on the stories that challenge fixed patterns of thought!