It’s been 55 years since Rosa Parks decided to keep her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. A tired seamstress who was on her way home from work, she did more to demonstrate the indignities of racism in the Jim Crow south than just about anyone else.
Why? Because hers was a simple yet compelling story. Anyone who worked for a living could understand how Ms. Parks felt. She was tired from a day of hard work, she just wanted to get home and put her feet up, and she needed to sit down on the bus.
And when she was arrested and convicted, local leaders of the church and fledgling civil rights movement knew that her example — a soft-spoken yet determined woman who was a model of good citizenship in her community — would shed a clear light on racial injustice for a complacent white majority.
They recognized that her story could be plainly told and understood without confusion or stridency, at a time when the status quo in the South was about to change.
Long story short
People want and need stories to understand their world. But it’s important to choose the story that erases boundaries and preconceptions. It’s about establishing common ground if you want to be persuasive — whether you’re selling insurance, cell phones, or concepts like freedom and equality.
My next blog: why the story of your subject must converge with the story of your audience.