“Those who tell the stories rule the world”

So “those who tell stories rule the world.” Is that a reason to celebrate our empowerment or a warning to the unwary?

Proverb: Those who tell the stories rule the world
Image source: unkown

I saw this image in a tweet recently*. It’s often attributed to Hopi Native Americans or Plato. It really struck me.

On the surface it’s a simple message of “Yay! Stories! Woo!” but it’s also a very ambiguous statement about what stories can actually do at the social and personal level.

Is it an empowering statement? It could be saying that your stories are key to persuading the people around you that your view of the world is right and reasonable.

Is it a warning? Think of war propaganda. A trawl through government images from the Second World War, from both sides of the conflict, shows the efforts put into creating a narrative that can be used to influence society. That’s an extreme example. Listen to any political discussion and try and isolate the narrative from the facts. At least from the news sources I follow I’d say there is precious little of the latter and much more of the former.

When you realise it’s a mural from an ad agency’s wall, it takes on another more commercial, capitalist meaning. The agency is called Contently. Visit its website and think about its message of creating stories around brands. This was something I blogged about a little while ago.

But what of the personal level? “World” in this sense is much more about the meanings we ascribe to our own lives.

Bruner (2004) talks about how the way we conceive of our own lives is through narratives that we build up over time. Who controls that story and what sort of story is being written?


Bruner, J. (2004). Life as Narrative, Social Research 71(3), 691–711

*I haven’t been able to attribute this image as its source is unclear. If it’s yours please let me know and I’ll credit you properly or find an alternative if you’re unhappy with my use of it.

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