Feel the Facts

Stories connect us through shared experiences is a thing I used to say but had little idea what I meant by it. For years, that was my platitude-like answer to the question “why are you a storyteller?”. I’ve always felt an immense passion behind telling stories, but for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t explain it. Not knowing why really bothered me. I would spiral, hoping I was a storyteller for the right reasons… that is, until I spent time working at The Goodman Center and learning the difference between the impact of data and the impact of story.

Data gives us the facts. Stories help us feel the facts. And feeling is critical for making change. Stories are most effective when we honor the characters’ emotional state. Crafting stories with The Goodman Center has taught me that conveying the emotion of your story is part of capturing the truth. Without emotion, you’re not telling the whole story.

In the public sector, it is our job to honor the people who trust us with their story by expressing how it feels to be in that story. Using emotion, we help our audience feel and understand the impact of systemic barriers and injustice. What if you could make the audience actually feel the impact of injustice? What if their stomach knots and their shoulders rise in tension? And then at the resolution, what if they sigh in relief? Or hold their breath in awe? Or tighten their jaw in outrage?

Of course, your audience may not feel the same exact emotions, nor will they feel them to the same degree as your protagonist, but if you become skilled at conveying emotion in your stories, your audience will feel something. If your audience feels the impact of injustice, they’ll want to do something about it. Andy Goodman always says “If you don’t feel, you don’t do,” or in other words expressing emotion is directly connected to getting people to take action. Dare I say, they are connected through a shared experience?

There it is, the same old “platitude-like” answer to why I do what I do. But now, after having worked at The Goodman Center, I know what I mean: I’m a storyteller because emotional stories invite empathy, and empathy transforms the world.