When stories become lies

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In her epic book, Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, focuses on the political genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Near the start, she talks about Lincoln’s “great gift for storytelling”. He was, in her words, “our only poet-president”.

“His stories … were fresh and sparkling. never tinctured with malevolence.” Though his face in repose revealed nothing “marked or Striking,” when animated by a story, “Several wrinkles would diverge from the inner corners of his eyes, and extend down and diagnally across his nose, his eyes would Sparkle, all terminating in an unrestrained Laugh in which everyone present willing or unwilling were compelled to take part.”

Robert Wilson
Quoted in Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

In this blog, and in my work, I talk a lot about the power of stories … to grab attention, build trust and create momentum.

But as with every tool or technique, intent matters.

There can be a dark side to stories, just as there can be a dark side to technology or patriotism or love or … anything.

Two days ago, Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States.

Thank God.

Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen how stories can be misused, abused and engineered.

We’ve seen what happens when the world moves from discussing facts to disputing facts.

Sadly, Donald Trump uses many of the techniques we talk about here.

He’s demonstrated the power of stories in the worst way.

Because fundamentally, he seems to be a baby and a liar.

I’m a Brit, so my only skin in the game is this … I want an America that can stand-up for democracy, stand-up for grown-up debate and stand-by those who can’t stand-up for themselves.

I don’t know Joe Biden, and I probably wouldn’t agree with all his ideas.

But he has chosen to hang a portrait of Ben Franklin in the Oval Office, which seems like a good sign.

Because facts matter. Science matters.

Leaving aside all the tools and techniques we can use to make our stories better … the very best way to TELL a better story is to BE a better story.

And I can only hope that Biden is that.

What about your story?