My spiritual practice teaches me that we are all one. But my public relations work calls me to pitch stories of Hero vs. Villain, Us vs. Them, David vs. Goliath. All the experts out there who advise social change activists like me about how to tell our stories agree: If we want to grab headlines for vital social justice issues or the health and sustainability of planet Earth, this is the kind of story we must spin. But is that really “all the news that’s fit to print,” or is there a more compassionate and imaginative path?
Publicists have coached us that the world isn’t ready for a “new story.” We humans are mythic beings, they say, bred on these archetypal narratives of right and wrong. We want to root for the sympathetic characters, the “good guys,” and boo the “bad guys”— and of course we want our cherished “good guy” to be the winner in the end. And so, say the professionals, it’s best to follow the rules of a classic storytelling structure if we are to succeed in our desire to better the world.
As a spiritual being having a human experience—and in this case, as a “PR & Communications Strategist” serving social movements—I’ve been "living the questions," as Rilke would say. I’ve been sitting with the unknown of how to foster accountability and shine a spotlight on the dynamics that fuel inequity and injustice, and inspire the opinion-leading media outlets to embrace this charge with me, while somehow building a narrative that the Buddha could be proud of.
Would a story free of judgment make the evening news?
Will the weekly magazines accept a political analysis that doesn’t perpetuate the illusion of separation of self and other, making “them” wrong, and offering compassion only for us “good” guys, rather than for all beings?
Will my story go viral if I let God into the frame?
I know somehow the answer is yes, but the actual sound bites continue to allude me. Where are all the spiritual spin-doctors? We need a power yoga session followed by a power lunch to talk this all out and heal the public relations industry!
My business card (click on the photo above right to see it) sports a slogan I’ve been saying for some time now: Love is the Message—All The Rest is Just Static In the Channel. (The “static” refers to warnings by 20th century communications genius Marshall McLuhan that visual appearance, costume choices, and behavior in an interview could either reinforce or be a distraction from one’s message.) It serves as a reminder to the many grassroots spokespeople I coach about the value in staying authentic and rooted in their values even as they polish their public speaking skills. Clearly I am feeling the love, but yet I can’t quite imagine what my campaigns will look and sound like when I fully let love rule my communications strategy. I am ready to learn though, and as God is my witness (and Buddha is my publicist), I now open my heart and my PR practice to the divine power of imagination.
Toward that end, this week I draw inspiration from the surrealist spirit of poet Robert Desnos. I share much gratitude for Carolyn Cushing of Art of Change Tarot who turned me on to this story during her time at Spirit in Action and the Progressive Communicators Network.
During World War II, Desnos, a member of the French Resistance Network, was captured and detained at Auschwitz and later at Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and finally Terezin, the concentration camp where he would die, only weeks after the camp’s liberation. Perhaps his brilliant, playful, creative, and highly imaginative approach to transformation is exactly what we need to master the art of the emerging “new story.”
“One day Desnos and others were taken away from their barracks. The prisoners rode on the back of a flatbed truck; they knew the truck was going to the gas chamber; no one spoke. Soon they arrived and the guards ordered them off the truck. When they began to move toward the gas chamber, suddenly Desnos jumped out of line and grabbed the hand of the woman in front of him. He was animated and he began to read her palm. The forecast was good: a long life, many grandchildren, abundant joy. A person nearby offered his palm to Desnos. Here, too, Desnos foresaw a long life filled with happiness and success. The other prisoners came to life, eagerly thrusting their palms toward Desnos and, in each case, he foresaw long and joyous lives.
The guards became visibly disoriented. Minutes before they were on a routine mission, the outcome of which seemed inevitable, but now they became tentative in their movements. Desnos was so effective in creating a new reality that the guards were unable to go through with the executions. They ordered the prisoners back onto the truck and took them back to the barracks. Desnos never was executed. Through the power of imagination, he saved his own life and the lives of others.”