For better or worse, we now live in an age of story.
I think I’ve already made my feelings about story very clear: I love it. I think stories, both real and fictional, are tremendously powerful and versatile things. And I’m not alone in that feeling.
Our love of story extends well beyond the shelves at Barnes & Noble, the spinning racks of tabloids at the grocery check-out, and the streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that bring stories directly into our homes. It’s so much more than just entertainment. For millions of years, story has been our species’ primary means for passing down our cultural histories and values. We view our lives through the lens of story, of personal history and progress. There is something inside us that is undeniably built for stories.
We love stories, and we consume them at an alarming rate; that’s why the quality of our stories is relevant to our quality of character. And in this day and age, we are offered more stories daily than we can possibly keep up with.
Like most of our natural resources—water, oil, even uranium– , stories are powerful and versatile. As such, they can be dangerous. It’s all in how we use them. To borrow the iconic mantra from one of America’s most- beloved characters:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Story is powerful. So what is an irresponsible story? What does that even mean?
An irresponsible story, or more accurately an irresponsible attitude towards story, is one that does not consider its own influence on its audience. .. And yes, we all have one. While people should of course be expected to be discerning and careful with what stories they seek out, it’s ethically wrong to throw the responsibility for the story we tell onto the people we tell it to.
The attitude of “if you don’t like it, don’t watch” is a selfish one. To have the freedom to tell stories is such an incredible gift. We should never use it in a way that could knowingly harm others. That should just be common sense, right?
And yet it seems people have stopped caring about how “their truth” might impact others.
Look at our culture. Our country. Even our planet. We live in an era of performative living; we share almost every aspect of our lives—our stories—with an audience larger than we can possibly understand. We have the ability to affect people on a scale never before experienced in the course of human history.
Kind of a big deal, when you think about it.
So what does it mean to share our stories responsibly? To open ourselves up and be authentic without being reckless? To guard our hearts and be discerning without burying our experience and hiding it from the world?
Where are the lines, the boundaries? Who sets them?
And when we are trying to use our story to help others—as we are with FEED Narratives–, how do we discuss sensitive topics such as eating disorders, mental illness, and trauma in a way that tells the truth without bringing about unintended consequences for those still hurting?
Some people chase “their truth” without weighing it against the very real impact it has on the world around them, ignoring the consequences it has on reality. Others deliberately obscure truth for the sake of a better story; they embellish and over-dramatize to win over the audience, and call truth that is unflattering “fake news.” But when a story is no longer anchored in truth, it begins to unravel. It does more harm than good.
This isn’t about censorship. This isn’t about “watering down” your experience or pretending things are better than they are.
It is about finding the balance between honesty and accountability, between vulnerability and selfishness. It’s about protecting the burning core of truth that sits in the heart of all stories.
How do we do it, especially if our goal is to inspire and love others? What do we owe our audience, even if it’s a metaphorical one? Are we telling our stories purely for our own sake, or are we trying to do something more?
These are the questions. That’s what our project is about. We’re working to figure it out, for ourselves and others.
We’d love to have you join us.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou