For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, stories have been the most fundamental communication method. A story in its simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, whether it’s about our work, buying groceries, or fighting with our partners.
An obituary got me thinking. The obituary announced the death of renowned Arkansas poet Miller Williams, who was celebrated for using everyday language in his verse. The short poem cited in the piece – titled “Compassion” – moved me, as it did Miller’s daughter, the country singer Lucinda Williams, who used her father’s spare lines in a song:
The marketers of processed food and beverages, as well as alcohol and tobacco, have understood the framing challenge very well. Minimizing the health threats of their products, they reframed the issue as a defense of the public’s “right” to smoke and drink…and to feed junk food to their kids. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” is the common refrain. It’s a matter of choice, freedom and responsibility.
Sometimes it takes time and perspective before the true impact of an idea or an action is fully realized, especially in our dizzying culture. The Greek philosopher Socrates was charged with “corrupting youth,” and he was sentenced to death by hemlock. But today he’s regarded as one of the giants in Western philosophy and a forefather of the scientific method. We’re probably not willing to wait that long for a payoff, but you get the idea.
The British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, liked to play cards. But he also enjoyed eating a snack at the same time, and that tied up his hands and involved utensils. So, in 1748, he came up with a solution: he put beef between slices of toast, so he could eat with one hand and still play the game.
Basically, enough already. We’re saturated with top 10 (or top 5) reasons to do something. I don’t know about you, but I’m inundated, and I hardly bother to look at them anymore, unless the headline is unavoidably compelling, which is rare.