Storytelling for Change: The Two Monks and the Women
ONCE THERE WERE TWO MONKS WHO were traveling through the countryside during the rainy season. Rounding a bend in the path, they found a muddy stream blocking their way. Beside it stood a lovely woman dressed in flowing robes. ‘Here’, said one of the monks to the women. ‘Let me carry you across the water’. And he picked her up and carried her across. After setting her down on the far bank, he walked in silence with his fellow monk to the abbey on the hill. Later that evening the other monk suddenly, ‘I think you made an error when you picked up that woman on our journey today. You know we are not supposed to have anything to do with women, and you held one close to you! You should not have done that.’ ‘How strange’, remarked the other. ‘I carried her only across the water. You are carrying her still’.*
Change -individual or organizational change- or new chapters in your life, will not start while you still carry with you old habits, ideas, or attitudes. New beginnings are only possible when you intentionally make room for new chapters in your story. The same way that trees let their yellow leaves fall so that new green ones can grow, you have to let go of former views about yourself, your company, or your brand to facilitate the appearance of new beginnings.
A risk of not ending previous chapters intentionally is a false ending. In a false ending, we fast-forward to a new chapter of our individual identity, or that of the company´s, without having digested what we want or need to change and, most importantly, why we need to change. There is also a risk in reverting to old ideas about ourselves or to old ideas about our company´s internal culture once the process of change is advancing, creating room for frustration, boycotting, and even blocking real progress.
A good storytelling strategy to make endings real -ones that you can consciously and unconsciously interiorize, ones which everyone in your team can apprehend and remember, is staging the death of the old ideas or outlooks by creating a ritual.
As I wrote in my book You´d better tell the whole story**: Craft a ritual that is meaningful for you or for your organization and celebrate it. Write the old ideas in pieces of paper and burn them. Tear down an old company logo. Take old photographs of yourself, or company documents, and paint on them, or solemnly store them away in a vault in the attic or in the storage room. Write an obituary to the old you, to the old company. Smash things, play music, mourn, sing, trash, or dance. Do it alone, or in private or publicly with your tribe, your family, friends, or work colleagues.
It´s crucial that you create your own ritual. I had a spiritual master once who built a coffin out of cardboard and asked me to get in. I did. After he sealed it, he asked me to meditate about the old me… for two hours. Not the nicest two hours of my life, as I am claustrophobic but unforgettably efficient. Use the tone, solemnity, or playfulness that fits your personality or company´s ethos the best. The important part is not how beautiful or spectacular the resulting ritual ceremony is, but the meditation created during the process of crafting the ritual itself and how meaningful and symbolic it is for you or for your company.
Once you have celebrated your own ritual, you or your company will be ready to move to the next stage in any Change process: thinking about who you want to be in the future and the kind of new chapter you want to write.
- *Story credit: William Bridges, from his book Transitions (Lifelong Books).
**You´d Better Tell the Whole Story: Storytelling as a communication tool (Ed. Empresa Activa).
- Some other posts you might enjoy:
- How I use Storytelling for Market Research
- Google Planning is Endangering Cultural Strategy
- How To Find Conflicts For Your Brand Storytelling
*About the author:
Antonio Nunez is a communication consultant, author, and speaker specialized in Storytelling. For ideas and tips on storytelling and communication, you can join his free newsletter at antonionunez.com or follow his Twitter @AntonNunez