Looking Through the Lens of Story Can Help You See a Way to Try to Reopen the Conversation in America

Now we’ll show you a fascinating way of seeing how story could help you reopen the conversation in America. Well, at least it was fascinating for us, because we just had never thought this way before.

Once again, it was Paula who encouraged us to think more broadly. She cast a vision that blew me away, showing us how seeing through the lens of story could be a powerful way to bring people together. For starters, she showed us this…


I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.

G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

What if Chesterton and Paula are right? What if seeing through the lens of story could provide a way for you Christians to think differently about those opposed to you? What if those enemies of yours, occupying the other side of the great American divide, could be reengaged? What if the conversation could be reopened? What if you Christians embraced story, learned to see people differently and stopped talking past each other, rekindling the all-important core of your democratic process — entering once again into robust conversation?

If that’s the case, we should show you this, right?

Right. That’s what we thought too.

But, it’s tricky. Showing this to you is a risky move for us. It lets you in on a weak spot, a potential chink in our armor.

We had a hunch it may become important, so we proceeded anyway, getting our “ducks in a row” as you Americans are fond of saying. And boy, oh boy — did we find some interesting stuff.

So, our team organized the material you’ll see here in this section.


The Story Triangle Tension

I’ll begin with the fascinating reality we came to see – which could play a powerful role in helping you to reopen the conversation in America…


Both sides in America have a significant story problem.


Once again, we turn to Robert McKee to help you to see this, because he developed a brilliant concept called ‘The Story Triangle.’

Here is the short video where McKee introduces it…


And here is a quote from a story about McKee in The New Yorker which sums up the concept…


“I’m not here to teach you how to write a Hollywood movie,” McKee said, the scorn in his voice sending a wave of reassurance through his well-educated audience. But then he drew a triangle on an overhead projector slide: at the top was “Classical Design” (stories with causality, closed endings, linear time, an external conflict, a single, active protagonist); in the other corners he wrote “Minimalism” (open endings, passive protagonists) and “Anti-Structure” (coincidence, nonlinear time). “This course is about the top, about classical design,” he said, pointing at the triangle. “Why? For your careers. As you move down the triangle, your audience shrinks. Why does it shrink?

Because people see themselves as protagonists of their own lives. Classical design is a mirror of the human mind. It’s how we see the world.”

McKee is a subversive who teaches tradition. He urges students to earn a living doing something intelligent near the top of the triangle….

The Real McKee, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

Now that you know what the ‘story triangle’ is, you will understand why we came to see that both sides of America’s divided house have a story problem. And, I think you’ll appreciate why we call these problems Story Triangle Tension.

You heard right—we came to see that both sides in your unfolding drama in America have a powerful ‘story triangle tension’ which they have yet to recognize.

We already covered the difficulty you Christians in America are facing—your own story triangle tension of having an archplot story, while hanging out in the minimalist corner.

Well, as hard as that is to face, we are in a worse condition. A pathetic position. For, while you have an archplot, and could step into that archplot story at any time you choose to if you are willing to face your minimalism, we are desperately seeking an archplot story with our very lives…yet…are stuck with…

No…Story…at…all!

You heard that right.

We ain’t got no story.

Can you see why I said we got no story?

Seriously, we got no story.

Impossible, right? Because everyone sees their life as a story. So how can the story the Party says we are in not be a story?

And that is our problem, right there. Because we do see our lives as a story. But the bigger story which the Party says we are in, well, it’s just not a story.

Let’s visit again Robert McKee’s brilliant concept called ‘The Story Triangle.’

Here is that quote again from The New Yorker summarizing the story triangle…


“I’m not here to teach you how to write a Hollywood movie,” McKee said, the scorn in his voice sending a wave of reassurance through his well-educated audience. But then he drew a triangle on an overhead projector slide: at the top was “Classical Design” (stories with causality, closed endings, linear time, an external conflict, a single, active protagonist); in the other corners he wrote “Minimalism” (open endings, passive protagonists) and “Anti-Structure” (coincidence, nonlinear time). “This course is about the top, about classical design,” he said, pointing at the triangle. “Why? For your careers. As you move down the triangle, your audience shrinks. Why does it shrink?

Because people see themselves as protagonists of their own lives. Classical design is a mirror of the human mind. It’s how we see the world.”

McKee is a subversive who teaches tradition. He urges students to earn a living doing something intelligent near the top of the triangle….

The Real McKee, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

But our version of the story we are in is not even in the story triangle. Our version is a nonplot which is below the bottom line… 


Above the line drawn between Miniplot and Antiplot are stories in which life clearly changes.

….

Below this line stories remain in stasis and do not arc. The value-charged condition of the character’s life at the end of the film is virtually identical to that at the opening. Story dissolves into portraiture, either a portrait of verisimilitude or one of absurdity. I term these films Nonplot. Although they inform us, touch us, and have their own rhetorical or formal structures, they do not tell story. Therefore, they fall outside the story triangle and into a realm that would include everything that could be loosely called “narrative.”

Robert McKee, Story

And narratives are boring. Look what McKee wrote…


Many marketing campaigns have flopped because an ad agency didn’t know the difference between narrative and story. Narrative may sound academic, even scientific, but in a business context, the term is neither logical nor precise. Its use commits a categorical error for this reason: All stories are narratives, but not all narratives are stories.

….
Narratives tend to be flat, bland, repetitive, and boring recitations of events. They slide through the mind like juice through a goose, and as a result, they have little or no influence on customers. 

Stories, on the other hand, are value-charged and progressive. The mind embraces a well-told story; the imagination is its natural home.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

A story is not an accumulation of information strung into a narrative, but a design of events to carry us to a meaningful climax.

Robert McKee, Story

So, our version of the story we are in is a boring narrative nonplot.

It’s the very kind of story which people are not very interested in.

And it’s ultimately – intrinsically — meaningless.

This experience has been very troubling for our team, because we don’t believe the Party will be very pleased with our discovery.

But there’s nothing anyone can do about that. That’s just how it is.


Nevertheless, Paula and I decided to include these insights in the initial draft of this report, which we thought we had to send to my Uncle for his approval, given the risk.

I didn’t show that draft to anyone on my team, just in case one of them would leak it to Shih Tzu.

But, a few days later, Shih Tzu sent me the following note… 



Dear Comrade Chow,

My uncle sent me a draft of the Special Report you intend to send to those American Christians.

And I was glad to see it, because it proves you are not just a loser.

You are also a traitor!

You were going to reveal our undefended space!

You dope dummy, you are inviting the train of death into your station. 

Idiot!

And for what?

What did you ask for in return?

Nothing.

So pathetic!

So weak.

So low energy!

I can’t wait for my Uncle to turn you into this song:

Dust in the Wind

  • Shih Tzu


Was he right? Is showing you this a treasonous act?

I looked to my Uncle for guidance. But, it only became worse, for under this pressure from Shih Tzu’s Uncle, my Uncle sent me the following note…



Dear Nephew,

Shih Tzu’s Uncle is raging against you. He says you have committed treason and need to be put on trial with a gun strapped to your head.

But before that happens, members of the Central Military Commission want to know … is Shih Tzu right? Should we reveal our weakness?

How about instead we do this—The Committee wants to know more about the possibility America could perish of its own.

What if we don’t have to drive the Americans off the stage of history? 

Is it possible they really might commit suicide? 

That possibility has our full attention — because we’re beginning to believe it really could happen.

And it looks like there are plenty of other people in America – some of whom are now departed – who share the same sense of how the story may play out ….


Was there any basis, I asked, upon which the Supreme Court might rule on the constitutionality of executive non-enforcement?

It all depends on Congress, Justice Scalia responded—and “if Congress doesn’t do its job and challenge the president,” he said, “what we have is a failed democracy.” The blow landed. The room fell silent. The moderator called for a break.

Justice Scalia’s remark has haunted me since last August. One’s blood runs cold at the thought that the American experiment might well be failing. And with Antonin Scalia’s sudden passing last month, one wonders whether one of the republic’s last lines of defense, the separation-of-powers doctrine, will be overcome by a Court that is growing increasingly unmoored from the text of the Constitution.

Scalia’s Warning, by Tara Helfman, Commentary Magazine, March 16, 2016

So, my dear Nephew, any unique ideas about how we could deepen the understanding of our members?

And, are you certain publishing this material you sent me in your preliminary report is necessary to show the American Christians? What if they responded? What if they did come to understand the power of story and reopen the conversation? Wouldn’t this strengthen rather than weaken America’s hour upon the stage?

You understand, of course, the sooner America leaves the world’s center stage the better.

But, I want you to know I still agree with you that it would be far simpler to just let them die of their own, than to have their fountains of freedom refreshed, to have them resurge in strength, making it necessary to engage them in a world-altering conflict to force them off the world’s stage.

Think carefully, please, before you act.

  • General Tso


This note haunts me to this day. And you are reading this now, so you know that despite these pressures, I did decide to act.

So, you’ll understand the tension I feel that we did move forward to show you why you could try to reopen the conversation in America.

Maybe someday my Uncle will understand. But it seems clear to Paula and me that we must show you this, to put you to a test. Remember, your God is all about putting people to tests, to expose what’s really in their hearts.