In his fascinating exploration of story "The Storytelling Animal," Jonathan Gottschall explores why human brains are hardwired to react to story. He points to mirror neurons as one of those reasons. To simplify a bit, the same parts of your brain react to watching someone do an action as if you were the one doing the action yourself. The same is true for fiction: reading about a protagonist helps your brain experience the world as if you were that protagonist. He writes, "When we see something scary or sexy or dangerous in a film, our brains light up as though that thing were happening to us, not just to a cinematic figment."
Stories are an emotionally compelling way to talk about your work, and they are much more engaging that a list of all of your programs and accomplishments. But something deeper actually occurs with story: the listener's brain creates new patterns based on the story. The next time the listener thinks about the subject of the story, they actually have slightly different thoughts than before they heard the story.
At a recent storytelling workshop in Bend, Oregon my LightBox Collaborative colleague Renée Alexander and I heard stories that changed perceptions about other people, stories that changed ways people see and understand the world, and stories that changed how people wanted to take action for social change.
The science behind those stories is what Gottschall explores, including a number of studies that show that peoples' opinions change more readily through fiction than non-fiction. "When we read nonfiction [such as rational arguments, data, or typical campaign materials], we read with our shields up," he writes. "We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defenseless."
And here lies the takeaway for social change: "If you want to a message to burrow into a human mind," Gottschall writes, "work it into a story."