After 8 years, here’s what we’ve learned about the power of the infinite narrative
This month, Digital Storytellers turns 8. As we hit this auspicious number that’s become synonymous with achievement, success, luck, and infinite possibility, we reflect on what this birthday might be telling us about the power of perpetually sharing stories that matter.
“Tell me a story and I’ll tell you who you are. The substance of our stories and the way we narrate them allows drawing conclusions in regard to our personality and worldview.” – Gerlinde Schuller, Systematic Storytelling
From our many years of doing this work, we can tell you one thing for sure: there is no such thing as a single story. There is no ‘one’ narrative, no ‘one’ storyteller, nor one way of seeing or being in this world. That’s what makes it so beautiful, and it’s also what makes it so complex, dynamic and challenging to navigate. But while there may be no single story, we have not yet reached the paradise of the infinite narrative.
This month, as Digital Storytellers turns 8 we’ve been reflecting on the balance and infinite possibility that this number symbolises, thanks to its symmetrical shape. Considered to be the number of perfection and even ‘luck’ in some cultures, let’s turn our heads to the side and contemplate the beautiful plurality of the infinite narrative.
To infinity and beyond
You didn’t think you were going to get through this without a pop culture reference, did you? You should know us better than that by now…
The infinity symbol ♾️ is a perpetual line that never ends, perfectly encapsulating how we see story and how story can give new meaning to a life and a world constantly in flux. Unlike a circle, where you end up back at the beginning, the infinity symbol (or the number ‘8’ depending on which way you look at it!) fills you with confidence that things will come back around, eventually.
While there is no end in sight, it is still possible to see that, on the other side of struggle is prosperity. And, as we see it, once you embark on the journey or the story of your life, it is a continual and evolutionary one; one that is crafted and adjusted along the way.
The infinite narrative is no different. With its feedback loops and repeatable patterns, its forward momentum and ever-evolving learnings, the cumulation of the many stories we tell and the many stories we hear provides an almost super highway of possibility, all thriving at once.
Storytelling is who we are
Since the dawn of time, storytelling has been part of who we are and how we make sense of and navigate our world. Whether we’re conscious of it or not – every day and in every way, each of us undertakes a constant and sometimes unrelenting process of digesting, learning, synthesising, reflecting, and reiterating the information around us.
From the stories we hear from on the news, to those we absorb around us, and from the stories that we tell others to the ones we tell ourselves – there are an infinite number of stories, and therefore an infinite narrative being told, providing the backdrop of the world.
Unravelling the infinite narrative
When we speak about the ‘infinite narrative’, we are referring to the plurality or mass of stories that converge and diverge throughout the world in a never ending or ‘infinite’ way.
In the same way that there is no stopping time, there is no stopping the infinite narrative. It exists, and continuously grows, with or without our intervention – simply by being, as we do.
Each individual story takes on a life of its own, creating infinite opportunities for empathy and connection in its wake. So, imagine what is possible when we start to see each and every story we tell as part of a rich and perpetual tapestry of stories – or an infinite narrative – with the power to change and transform the world we live in.
And now you’ve started to unravel the power and possibility of the infinite narrative.
There cannot be a single story
Sometimes it helps to grasp a concept like the infinite narrative by grappling with the alternative. Powerfully presented by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED Talk ‘The danger of a single story’, she argues that single stories – while they might often originate from simple misunderstandings or a lack of knowledge – can have malicious intents to suppress, discriminate against and oppress others.
“When I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States, I was 19. My American roommate asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my ‘tribal music,’ and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘The danger of a single story’
What struck her, Adichie goes on to say, was that this roommate was beset by a kind of patronising, yet well-meaning, pity based on a single story of Africa: one of catastrophe and presumably poverty. This single story conspires to rob both the storyteller and the storylistener of the possibility of connection between equals, instead establishing a hierarchical power dynamic that is at best prejudiced, and at worst deadly.
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different rather than how we are similar.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not only is there no such thing as a single story, there cannot be a single story – the stakes are too high and the challenges before us too complex to be obscured without nuance or plurality.
The paradise of the infinite narrative
It was our choice eight long years ago, to only use the power of story, and our skills as storytellers, to work with purpose-driven communities, organisations and people and amplify their stories of resilience, struggle, triumph, and everything in between. That’s because, not only do we understand the danger of a single story, but we believe in the power of the infinite narrative to create the kind of world we need.
Every time we help bring someone’s stories to life, we become part of their infinite narrative, and they ours. After eight years of doing this work in this way, the stories we’ve heard, shared and held space for have become part of the infinite narrative.
Each individual story has pushed us to new places, new ways of knowing, to new ideas, and to new levels of impact – and each year the power of that infinite narrative grows through its perpetual motion and evolution.
As Adichie poignantly puts it:
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
No matter how small or how insignificant telling our stories and our truths each day may seem in the grand scheme of this big, wide world – your stories create ripple effects of bold and beautiful impact and that is the power of the infinite narrative.
How can you take the time today to listen to others and cultivate an infinite narrative hope and possibility?
If you are curious to learn more about the power of story, get in touch and together we can help you share your vision for a bold and beautiful new world.