The Power of Story: East and West

March 4, 2021
Story Time with Waves Media Boston Video Editors

Story. It’s been a buzz word in the organizational world for some time now. But as Inigo Montoya famously states in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And depending on your context and your culture it may mean something entirely different than it means to others. Let’s explore as our team discusses.

Differences in story PURPOSE

We in the ‘west’ (let’s say in the US and Europe) largely emphasize the empirical data in our thinking, learning, and business. Whereas in eastern cultures also emphasize the power of stories to shape mindsets and identity.

Now in a sense all of us actually do that. That’s why we love movies, dramas, and novels. We are looking for purpose from stories to give us meaning. And many of the stories we have heard in the US (for instance) have defined the way we think culturally. It’s actually an amazing study to see this in things like our cinema, the stories taught in each generation, etc.

However, understanding that in the ‘western’ classroom and boardrooms at least there is a “story-dissidence” is crucial to understand. In the forefront of many of our minds, stories may just be fun. But to pull principles from them, or admit that they can inform the way we think, or that we can extract knowledge from them may not be as akin to audiences in the west as we may assume.

Differences in story itself

As a kid I watched tons of old classic black and white films. The story pretty much never got too complicated. The bad guys were bad, the good guys were good and in the end everyone lived happily ever after after the bad guys were done away with. That’s kind of what we in the west want to hear and see, as we are accustomed to that. Even today many blockbuster films still seem to have that largely straightforward approach. But more and more the influences of the east are getting in there….

In the eastern world, stories can be a bit more bittersweet. Protagonists can die midway through a story for example and be both good and bad. The enemies are not always as defined either, and victory for the ‘good’ is not always the outcome, or at least not fully. For more on this see this short article.

Meaning and wisdom can be gained I think in each of these styles however.

For those familiar with the Bible, I like to see the difference between the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in a similar light. Both were written by the same author (King Solomon) but with entirely different vibes and themes. Proverbs (loved by westerners btw!) is very straightforward while Ecclesiastes is quite convoluted. Yet, as I believe, truth is found in both.

Now you may heartily disagree with this overall premise. But take it as food for thought at least. And if you want, we’d love to hear your input.