Storytelling – a simple but effective tool for change


South Africa is blessed to have a very active and proactive citizenry, and some would even argue that South Africans have never been as fearless and open to change as they are now. Olefile Masangane, Project Manager at Heartlines, recently stopped by the Power FM offices to speak to Aphelele Somi about the What’s Your Story? campaign, the need for citizen leadership, and the value of storytelling.

Stories help us understand, stories bring healing, and stories connect us to each other. Human beings are not wired to connect at factual level, human beings are wired to connect at story level, at an emotional level.”

Here are some of the focal points they discussed:

“We have a trust deficit in our society.”

South Africa may be a free and democratic country, but it is not yet a united country. There is a deep divide in the country that is yet to heal. “It cuts across the board; whether it’s a government department or a company or a school,” Masangane said. “There is this trust deficit. We cast suspicions, we cast judgement on each other before we get to know the person behind the face, so storytelling is the best way of demystifying these perceptions.

ALT is the beginning of the change we need

Ask, listen, tell – ALT – is a simple formula or storytelling tool that the What’s Your Story? campaign uses to foster empathy and understanding. As Masangane said, “When I get to know the person’s story, my empathy levels go up, because now I understand where this person is coming from and what they’ve been through. And I think we miss each other at times because we don’t know one another’s stories.”

Story is how we are wired

Masangane shared his own story of growing up in Lehuruthse, a district in the former Bophutatswana. His mother taught him how to be entrepreneurial. At an early age she gave him cabbages and potatoes to sell in the township, telling him, “Ngoanake, if you don’t sell, you don’t eat.” His mother’s teachings influenced his view on hard work and respect for others.

Stories help us understand, stories bring healing, and stories connect us to each other. Human beings are not wired to connect at factual level, human beings are wired to connect at story level, at an emotional level.” Masangane said.

“The time of iconic leadership is done and dusted.”

What’s Your Story? is an intentional campaign – it does not avoid tackling and  addressing the obvious challenges South Africa is facing. “If we don’t, we’ll be sitting at the same place,” Masangane said. “It needs ordinary South Africans, the time of iconic leadership is done and dusted.”

It will take ordinary South Africans taking a stand, realising that it will take initiative to make the country a better place.

Workplaces can benefit from storytelling

Working environments where mistrust is rife can benefit from storytelling. As Masangane said, business is not able to flow because there is a lot of suspicion. Real connection enables workplaces to optimise their systems, however small the company may be.

When people engage on an emotional level and connect, they will be able to engage on a meaningful level too – that is how South Africa can begin to move towards lasting unity.

Click below to hear the audio from the interview


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