chapter 15: power of story telling

Understanding faith has helped me to understand branding and the power of story telling.

The first thing I had to learn was how faith is actually nothing more than storytelling made personal.

We live life in our minds. We have created in our minds a character called “me” or “I”. This character has abilities, tastes and characteristics that are or are not related to our physical make-up and natural talents.

We have people around us. These people, in our minds, have abilities, tastes and characteristics. Many times our mental image of them is closely related to who they really are and many times it’s not.

The mental images of who we are and how we see others are informed by complex feedback mechanisms. Some of this feedback about ourselves and others come to us through our language, eyes, smell, touch and some through complex chemical and neural reactions and responses.

From the moment we meet someone, we start forming a picture of who we think this person is.

In fact, we are so prone to do this, that we continue to practice this over and over again, even if we do not meet a real person. For many reasons, we continue to play with this ability in our minds and relate it to hypothetical people in storytelling.

Storytelling becomes one of our most powerful cultural expressions.

In this storytelling mode, we create pictures of different “we’s” or “I’s”.

In the 2nd and 3rd person, we create elaborate pictures of fictitious “you’s” and “them’s”.

It is this ability that keeps us glued to television programs, movies, books, audiobooks and radios. Our ability to think in the 2nd or 3rd person. To put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, as it were, and interact with even a completely fictitious world, through the eyes of this other person.

This ability directly give rise to our seeming inability to disprove a faith from within the system of faith.

When non-believers interact with any faith, they many times express frustration because it seems as if facts or evidence have no persuasive ability on the mind of the faithful.

The reason is that the faithful are thinking from within the narrative and the non-believer from without.

The faithful have been put inside the narrative by a conversion experience which has put him consciously or unconscious “in the faith narrative.”

The faithful have now adopted a new view of themselves. Whether there is any basis in reality is from this moment on immaterial. He or she is now a “sinners, in need of a saviour.”

They also immediately see life in this land through the eyes of Jesus, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Moses, Abraham and the rich biblical cast or the cast of whatever faith the person is found in.

As in any narrative, character development takes place as they get to learn the characteristics of the “faith-cast” and as these characters grow and develop in their mental world, they feel more at home within the story. Christians call this “Christian growth.”

Storytelling is all around us. But faith not only teaches us about storytelling. It also tells us about the power of the “perpetual story.”

The perpetual nature of the faith narrative is what sets it apart from other fiction.

What I mean is that the faith narratives tell the faithful that they live in the story in the “here-and-now.” It is not a story, but reality.

It may be only the faithful’s reality, but to them it is reality and it is powerful.

This means that they interpret everything that happens in light of the faith-reality they believe they are in.

This is actually far more pervasive than one would think.

The person who believes in ghosts and “spirits” tend to project their belief in the supernatural into any situation where they observe something they can not explain. They too live in a world informed by their belief system.

Many aspects of nationalism are similar to a faith system with all the different political leanings that we find in national politics in any traditional faith system.

There are the moderates, the conservatives and the liberals. The ones in favour of centralized control and those factions who favour a decentralized government. The ones who interpret laws more literal and the ones who favour a less legalistic application of the law.

Like faith, nationalism is an example of a perpetual story we live in.

It is the strong association with a set of values and presuppositions and the application of these values and presuppositions in one’s everyday life.

Branding is in my mind, not the association with “perfection”, but association with such a set of values.

It is a group of people who live the life of these characteristic’s, irrespective of the current reality. Similar to a traditional faith system or nationalism.

Core values that shape our choices and the belief that the narrative is real. Like the “American Dream”, the British spirit of “invention and adventure”, German “precision” and the South African “truth and reconciliation.” Christian “faith, hope and love” and ancient African religion of Ubuntu (we are who we are because of other people).

Branding must be far more than a product or a service. It is a conscious association with a set of values.

Let’s be creative and build great and lasting brands!


(c) eben van tonder