I used to think that storytellers are great at talking about the future, at drawing a picture of how our lives could potentially be if we make one choice or another, that they’re inspirational at showing us how we can overcome adversity in our lives.
I used to believe that until I heard Reverend angel Kyodo williams talking to Krista Tippett.
I was listening to the podcast while tidying the house after the children had left for school. I often use this time after the frenetic morning activity to recentre myself and listen to something inspirational that I can carry with me through the day and eventually turn into a story during my writing time.
The inspirational moment arrived when Rev. angel Kyodo said that prophets are dangerous because they tell us about the present, not because they tell us about the future. Most of the time we don’t realise that we live our lives thinking about the past. Bringing us into the present is powerful, transcendental and transformative.
I’ve always seen my work as helping people to communicate about the future in the present, to tell the story of what will happen if they do X or Y, but in fact what great storytellers do is tell us about these future options in the present: “It’s here, it’s coming, you can do it right now, this is the right moment and the right place for you to step up.”
Great stories create an urgency to act by erasing considerations about the future and focusing exclusively on the present. Powerful stories address the now, not the future. Do you remember Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth back in 2006? He used storytelling to bring people’s attention to something that many of us felt as a distant problem in a distant future: climate change. One of the first sentences in the trailer is “If you love the planet, if you love your children, you have to see this film.”
Create the urgency in the now, as if there is no future. That’s what great stories do.