Building New Narratives

Our current global “storyline” isn’t working. We need new narratives for a thriving future.

Every aspect of human life is rooted in narrative.

The human brain functions in narrative. Our minds are continuously hashing and rehashing storylines about our life, our relationships, our career, and our place in the community. Our cultures are based on narratives that define rules and norms; they are what give meaning and context to the world around us, and they subconsciously shape (and constrain) our possibilities and our futures. We believe them with little questioning, and all of our decisions and behaviors are based on these foundational storylines. The stories we tell ourselves about how the world works — what is possible, and what’s not — these stories shape societies, move economies, and determine our entire existence.

 

Narratives have gravitational force.

Some are so massive, so deeply ingrained, that they pull everything into their orbit. Some narratives propel us forward, while others hold us back. When narratives go stale, they keep us locked-in to patterns that no longer serve us, and they limit future possibilities.

 

Our future is built upon our narratives.

The future is constantly unfolding as a continuous series of “next steps” in the collective storylines from every human brain, every organization, and every culture. To take control of the future, we must seize control of our societal narratives.

 

Today’s narratives aren’t working.

Accelerating technological growth and rapid societal change are rendering modern narratives obsolete. With automated labor on the horizon, and the existential threats of AI, nuclear weapons, and climate change looming over our future, the “winner takes all” mentality of capitalism is unsustainable. In such a complex world, old approaches — to our health, education, politics, and even our overall human purpose — are leaving too many people behind.

Consider some of the most deeply embedded narratives that define our lives:

  • Money and Human Value. With few exceptions, money is the common denominator used to value people's time and contribution to society. The narrative we tell ourselves and each other is that our worth is quantifiable based on how much time, skill, and contribution that we make. In this narrative, our value goes up or down based on what we have to offer, and what others are willing to pay. Does this transaction-based storyline serve us individually and as a society? How will it continue to function as AI automates more and more of the labor force? Is there a different narrative that could more adequately value the multifaceted contributions made by individuals and groups working together to build a thriving society?
  • Education and Learning. Our centuries-old narrative around education is that children are empty vessels that must be filled with certain knowledge and skills, and then released into a job marketplace that has a slot available for each and every one. But this storyline is stalling: we are training students for jobs that don’t exist, in factory style fashion, with too many casualties along the way, while the jobs that are needed to build a thriving future can barely be filled. Is there a new narrative where learning is more personalized and flexible, where we cultivate human potential for the opportunities of tomorrow?
  • Health and Wellness. Our narrative approach to health and medicine is so linear that it is failing to uphold the complexity of human wellness. When we’re sick, we go to a doctor or take pills, expecting a one-size-fits-all solution for our ailments. We exercise so that we can look good, keep off weight, and post gym-selfies, rather than as an integrated lifestyle. Meanwhile, an unhealthy modern narrative about how to live is harming our health from the bottom-up. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting in vehicle, or in our homes or offices starting at the computer or phone screen. We eat processed foods that our bodies are not designed to digest. Modern medicine is amazing, but it is fighting a constant uphill battle against the repercussions of the way we live. It’s no wonder that so many people are turning to holistic approaches to health and eating, and returning to ancient practices like yoga to live a more integrated healthy lifestyle. What if we changed the narrative around wellness?

 

The New Narratives Project is an intiative of the World Future Society that looks to redefine the narratives of our current times.
A balancing act, as depicted in THE FUTURIST, 1973 Special Publication.

 

That’s why we must create new narratives.

New narratives are the foundation on which we can build a better future. As old norms and institutions fall apart, we will need to experiment with new modes of living, new tribes and communities, and new “games” to solve problems, reduce suffering, achieve our dreams, and evolve into something greater. We must be socially, psychologically, and spiritually prepared. We can no longer equate blind growth with human progress. Humanity needs a new purpose, a new narrative, a new storyline to define our existence. We cannot afford to be passive about our future, leaving the defining decisions of our time in the hands of corporations and institutions that define old paradigms.

We must become active participants in shaping our future, and building its new narrative together.