The Power of Stories
We’ve all heard this before, marketing terminology that’s used to emphasize how important it is to create emotion in the messages we send out to our customers. People resonate with stories.
Narratives are a simple way to understand complex information and values in our world. They are easy to comprehend and identify with. Stories paint a vivid picture in our heads of how the world could (and sometimes should) be. They take us somewhere. They make us feel and they can make us care where otherwise we would not.
So, can a story save the world?
Recently I was told a tale as I traveled through northern Scotland. The Scots are famously good storytellers, and this one was particularly skilled at weaving a fascinating yarn. In a deep rolling Scottish accent (who can resist!), it was hard not to listen intently to him. No surprise, his story stuck with me.
The Man Who Saved Scotland With A Story
1882, Scotland was under suppression by the British Empire. England had taken over Scottish lands and subjugated the people. The crown ordered that all Scots burn their kilts, and the use of the Gaelic language in public or private quarters was strictly forbidden. Bagpipes were banned, along with many other ancient Scottish traditions held for centuries.
But Sir Walter Scott, a poet and a writer from Edinburgh, Scotland had a magical way with words. It had made him a phenomenal success, not only in Scotland but in England as well. Walter Scott expertly wove tales of a romantic Scotland full of legends and lore, battles and chieftains, faeries and mist. His writing became wildly successful and he became a phenomenal success both at home and in England. The stories and the way in which he told them captured the hearts and the imaginations of his readers, who became enraptured with the idea of Scottish heroism, bravery and brotherhood.
As history would have it, one of these avid readers would be the King of England. George IV was so swept away with the romance of Walter Scott’s writing that he would appoint him to personally oversee the king’s visit to Scotland, along with his entire court. It would be the first time a British king had stepped foot in Scotland for over 100 years.
Unbeknownst to the king, this visit had the potential to be either catastrophic or advantageous for the Scottish. The problem was that the stories of Scotland as told by Walter Scott in his literature were a somewhat fictionalized version of the truth. In reality, there no longer were any clans or tartans or bagpipes – all had been outlawed upon punishment of death generations ago. Not only that, but Scotlanders were hardly inclined to welcome the King of England, their suppressor, with open arms.
Another Story To Tell
So Walter Scott had to weave another tale. This time, the story told was one of hope and pride, with a little defiance thrown in for good measure – Walter Scott convinced the Scottish people to rally behind the idea of putting on a party the likes of which no one had ever seen for the visiting English court. To prove their spirits were unbroken, every household from the highlands to the lowlands dug up their long-hidden kilts, daggers and bagpipes and lined the streets dressed in full regalia as the King and his company paraded through Edinburgh. They held huge highland games with caber tossing, stone throwing and piping competitions. The whiskey flowed freely.
By the end of the night the king and his court were completely beguiled and enchanted by the Scottish people, and with Walter Scott by his side, King George IV loudly proclaimed to the room that he wished he himself could have a full tartan kilt and garb to wear as well!
Little Did He Know…
Walter Scott had orchestrated the king’s visit down to the smallest detail, and already had commissioned a full Scottish tartan war-dress and kilt to be made in secret just for the king.
Immediately, George was whisked away into a back room where he was outfitted from head to toe. And despite the kilt fitting a wee bit snug around the waist, when the king entered the hall in front of all his courtiers and nobles it was a moment that would go down in history as the rebirth of Scottish culture in popular culture.
Scotland became instantly trendy. Tartan patterns would be embraced by the noble British houses and royal court as high fashion for centuries to come, and with it the harsh views on Scottish culture and traditions softened somewhat. Subsequently many aspects of the suppression of the Scottish people were lifted, and just in the nick of time. Rather than entirely wiping out the Celtic culture from existence, it experienced a renaissance across Britain and eventually the world that continues today.
How much of this story is true? I truly have no idea. My re-telling is purely from the memory of the tale I was told, and I have to confess that, to me, it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not you enjoy eating haggis and the sounds of bagpipes, the Scottish culture was preserved enough that almost 200 years later we can still identify the country and its people as separate yet connected to Britain, with their own romantic traditions and history. And I will tell you, this Scottish lass is certainly grateful! All because of one man telling one story really, really well.
That’s the power of a good story, it has the potential to change the world. So, what’s the story you intend to tell?