“December 37th” was, of course, January 6th. For my own narrative and optimism purposes, however, I’m choosing to associate the day’s events with the end of 2020 rather than with 2021.
As we all watched and learned about the attempted coup last Wednesday, most people were stunned and horrified by what we saw on our news and social media feeds.
To those who understood Trump’s psychology and how he connects with his fan base, however, this was no surprise; it was predictable. The reality is that this story has played out hundreds of times throughout history under the banners of race, religion and nationalism. Lessons that we thought we learned have come back with a painful reminder.
What was surprising to some, was how many people whom we might otherwise consider rational and loving, continued to support him and his cause leading up to and even after the insurrection.
Some of his supporters went as far as to create ever greater conspiracy theories to try to resolve their cognitive dissonance. “It could be Antifa, fake news, or even actors hired by the radical left,” they rationalize. “There is no way, that what we believe and the actions of support I’ve taken were responsible for this attack on America.”
Why did so many people heed the call for insurrection? And why are so many more still unwilling to admit their error?
That is the power of story.
Donald Trump’s narrative is a near-textbook example of the hero’s journey story structure. While many books will likely be written on this subject, let’s take a look at the story elements that Trump used so effectively to such pernicious effect—and how we can use these same concepts for good.
Read on, or skip to the takeaways.
Takeaways: 10 Storytelling Lessons for Nonprofits
- Frame the narrative—what does the world look like and what’s wrong?
- Define a common vision—the bigger the vision, the more people will identify with it
- Define a common villain—the greater the danger, the more allies you’ll find
- Keep initial calls to action small—just enough to get people started and self-identifying with the cause
- Identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves—the more we’ve self-identified, the more personally invested we become
- Increase the commitment gradually and commensurately with the challenges faced
- Show that you’re succeeding—people want to be part of a winning team
- Story works on our emotions, not logic—adrenaline and cortisol are incredibly powerful, so are oxytocin and dopamine
- True leaders lead with empathy, not fear and insecurity