Facts, data, and complaints don’t persuade people, but the right stories will – By Lee Habeeb –
Good evening, and thanks for coming. What you are about to experience will — I hope — entertain, perhaps enlighten, and maybe even move you.
To begin, I want to promise you what I won’t talk about. I won’t talk to you about current events. No talk of President Obama. Or Nancy Pelosi. Or the Senate Democrats. I won’t talk about the national debt. Or the rise of Islamism. Or the 2012 election.
I know. It’s sounding like a great speech already!
For the next 15 minutes, I want to free you from the present, from all the endless bad news that’s on Fox News, Drudge, You Tube, and Twitter.
Indeed, so many of our problems are rooted in our fixation with the present, with the here and now. So many businesses in our country suffer from this affliction. So worried are they about the next quarterly report, they lose sight of the next six months or the next year. It’s the same with our families and churches. We’re so busy living our lives moment to moment, we have no time to refresh, replenish, and reset.
It’s conservatism’s problem. We spend too much time and money on elections and worry too much about this or that county in Ohio, this or that set of tactics designed to outmaneuver Democrats on issues that we will soon forget. We don’t spend nearly enough time on our mission or on ourselves. In the pursuit of short-term advantages, we lose our long-term vision.
And then we lose ourselves.
There was a great book a couple of years ago by John Kay called “Obliquity.” The theme of the book was that we can attain a desired goal best by pursuing it indirectly — or not pursuing it at all. Kay explains in the book how GE CEO Jack Welch performed so well for shareholders. It was simple: He didn’t worry about shareholder value. Indeed, he once went out of his way to call shareholder value “the dumbest idea in the world.” Welch did something radically different: He spent his waking hours thinking about his workers and his customers. And what happened? Precisely because he didn’t worry minute to minute about shareholder value, he delivered shareholder value!
Even happiness, John Kay writes, is best pursued indirectly. He quotes John Stuart Mill, who framed what we’ve come to call the “happiness paradox.” Mill wrote: “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.” Like the man who gets high blood pressure because he takes his pulse all the time, we focus on the wrong measures of well-being: entertainment, vacations, a round of golf, letting off a few rounds at the local firing range. We then return to our lives, still worried about our future, our families, and our country.
Which is why this speech is not about our present. It’s about our past — and our future. I want to talk about who we are, how we got here, and who we might become.
George Orwell said this about the future: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their own history.” Orwell was right. Battles about the past — over history — are always about the future.
Regrettably, the American story (and that’s all American history is: the story of America) is being written by people who don’t much like our country and who want to change it. They want to change it by erasing those parts of our history that they don’t like or that don’t comport with their ideal version of America.
The Left’s narrative goes something like this: If only America would be less . . . American, the world would be a better and safer place. If only the Constitution were less . . . like our Constitution, and more like South Africa’s, a work in progress, a living Constitution . . . As if the document our Founders wrote isn’t alive and thriving, as if it hadn’t helped unleash the potential of a people like no other single document in human history. In America, the government receives its limited powers from the people. That was a revolutionary idea in the 18th century. It still is.
Regrettably, too many of us don’t know the story of our country. Indeed, we have neglected storytelling as a means of changing the way we think about ourselves. We have invested billions of dollars in our great think tanks, but little in the serious business of telling stories.
One thing you can say about the Left: They are great at storytelling. At making things up. They’ve churned out works of art, theater, journalism, and film, and it has paid off. Their fiction is made up — but their nonfiction is made up, too. Their version of American history: made up, or filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions that beg for correction.
In the culture wars we are fighting — and make no mistake, the biggest cultural battle is over our past — we must fight their stories with stories of our own.
Either that, or lose our memory. And lose America.
This past election cycle, we often heard pundits and politicians predict that if President Obama were reelected, our country would cease to exist. Obama would cause the kind of damage, they said, from which America would never recover.
I am here to report that our country will survive President Obama.
America doubters have been predicting our demise since before we were born. If Vegas had handicapped the Revolution of 1776, America would have been 1:10 underdogs to make it to the year 1800. But we triumphed over the mighty British Army with a ragtag army assembled on the fly. We overcame the original sin of slavery with a Civil War that left America with 600,000 fewer men — in a nation of only 35 million — and with much of the South, even the crops, burned to the ground. Today, the South is the fastest-growing region in America, and more African Americans are in positions of leadership there than in any other region in the nation.
We beat the Nazi menace. We ended Soviet totalitarianism. We’ve survived runaway inflation, stagflation, and deflation. We survived Woodrow Wilson. We survived Jimmy Carter.
Heck, we even survived disco. And, so far, Deepak Chopra.
Then there were all of those natural and not-so-natural threats that the scientific doom-and-gloom crowd claimed would kill us. We survived the threat of mass famine, the population explosion, and killer bees. (Remember those swarms of African bees that were going to migrate to North America and kill us all?)
We survived Agent Orange, nuclear meltdown, and the China Syndrome. We survived mad-cow disease, bird flu, swine flu, SARS, Y2K, global cooling, and, yes, we’ll survive global warming, too.
We were told by the expert academics and economists in the 1930s that Communism was superior to our system of free enterprise, and 50 years later, a new gang of elites told us Japan’s way was the way of the future.
Thirty years later, and we are now being told by a fresh set of academic and cultural elites that China’s way — the autocrats’ way — is the way of the future.
We have survived and triumphed over all of those real and fake threats, and disproved the myriad apocalyptic predictions, since our nation’s founding. And we will continue to.
What we cannot survive is our loss of memory: the memory of who we are, how we got here, and the people and principles that made this country great.
“The world is made up of stories, not atoms,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser once noted. She is right. Stories move us. They teach us, guide us, and uplift us. They stir our hearts. And stories soon become our collective memory.
Storytelling worked for Jesus Christ. And his apostles.
It worked well for Abraham Lincoln. And Winston Churchill. And Ronald Reagan.
For far too long, our side has relied on facts, data, and reason to prevail, on consultants, pollsters, pundits, and Ph.D.’s to advance the cause of freedom, free markets, and freedom of religion and conscience. For far too long, we’ve tried to convince our fellow Americans that we are right and the Left is wrong, and we have pummeled them with facts and figures, lectures and admonitions. We’ve become angry and even bitter that more Americans have not been convinced of our superior arguments.
A few years ago, Will Bowen came out with a book called “A Complaint Free World,” in which he talked about the deleterious impact that complaining had on businesses, churches, and families. He then came up with a challenge for his readers, urging them to go three weeks without complaining.
No small task. But big challenges have big upsides.
For the next three weeks, I urge you to do something very difficult: When talking to friends, loved ones, and neighbors about the country you care so much about, do not complain about anything. Not the Democrats, not the Federal Reserve, not sequestration, and not the mainstream media.
I know. I hear that collective gasp. Complaining about our lot in life has become oxygen to us. We act as if we are some beaten-down minority, oppressed victims of forces too big for us to combat. We forget that twice as many Americans identify as conservatives as identify as the liberals, and then we go out every day hell-bent on reversing that number. We drive moderates and independents away from us.
We are not fully to blame for this. The media and most of the cultural institutions in America make us feel that we are in the minority. It’s a form of psychological warfare, and we soon start to believe that we’re in the minority. Our media outlets, from Fox News to talk radio, help make us feel less alone, but they, too, are sometimes part of the problem; they are designed in part to stir our outrage. And truth be told, there is much to be angry about.
But when trying to bring people around to our point of view, anger isn’t a tool of persuasion.
Neither are facts and data. When you start explaining why you’re right and why the person you’re talking to is wrong, and that you have the facts and data to prove it, you will lose every time. Explaining is how we always get in trouble.
I propose here and now that we try something new. Let’s start telling stories — stories that carry in them everything we think and know about what has made our country great, and what will keep it great. Stories of our families and how we got here. Stories of our heroes, our innovators, and our immigrant heritage. Local stories, old ones and new ones. Stories about courage and honor and love.
And maybe we can invite our friends to share their stories with us.
Here is what we’ll learn: Few if any of those stories will include the government as the protagonist. Most will be about the redeeming power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things, feats they never thought possible, even in their dreams.
As we share these stories, certain themes will emerge: Love conquers cynicism, hope beats despair, hard work is good and laziness bad, accountability and responsibility matter in life, risk-taking is a fundamental part of life, and so too is failure, and freedom is the antidote to bondage of every kind.
Those stories will reinforce a simple notion: that genius, beauty, and innovation spring from the most unlikely of places, places no central planner or government bureaucrat could ever create or control.
What the people we are trying to persuade will also learn through our storytelling is this: It is we, we on the right, who are the optimists about human beings, we who believe in the innate brilliance of the American people to solve our own problems, we who believe that human beings are not a pile of cells and membranes, but living spirits whose rights and talents come from God, not government. They will learn that it is we who are pessimists when it comes to power and its tendency to corrupt. It is we who are pessimists when it comes to the ability of large bureaucracies, whether public or private, to navigate the ever-changing needs and demands of the people they purport to serve.
If we stop complaining and explaining and start storytelling, we just might get back our confidence — and also our sense of joy and love.
Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get our country back, too.
With that said: “Once upon a time . . . ”
— Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network.
I heard quite a few complaints in this speech about not complaining. And a few fairy tales in the story telling. Just because our country has survived the past, does not mean it will survive much longer. The reason it has survived is because there were enough forward thinking people to serve this country with their gifts and their lives. A good story to read would be “Fear God and Take Your Own Part” written by Theodore Roosevelt. The “story” he tells of Belgium, would be a good one to tell before it happens to us. Spend a little “time on yourself” and read that book.
I love the speech, hope and pray it will work, but I’m afraid as one writer said we are only getting what we have ask for by our actions or inaction for 50 years. Most of the people I know who voted for obama have the mind set of DON”T CONFUSE THEM WITH THE FACTS THIER MIND IS MADE UP> GOD HELP US PLEASE!!!!!
I decided about 6 months ago that I wanted to know more about the founding of this country and the people who did it. I read the book John Adams and I was hooked. I wanted to find out more so I looked online and Hillsdale College has several courses on the Constitution and our American Heritage. I carry a copy of the Constitution and Bill of rights and Declaration of Independence in my purse. I read them while I’m waiting at the Doctors Office or restaurant or wherever.
One of the amazing things about our forefathers is that they didn’t particularly like each other and they disagreed on many things but somehow came together to create this great country. Anything can be accomplished if you focus on the goal. This was a great article or speech or whatever you want to call it and you are so right. I love this country. We aren’t perfect but there is no other place that I would rather be than here.
As a So called black american,i do relish the fact that even our founding father’s knew ,that the very document they wrote would some day change history.They knew well that the constitution was a document that was even superior to their own behavior,i.e. slavery!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A great speech! After the elections I was so dissolusioned with politics and America’s choice in leadership, but I had to pick myself up, turn off talk radio because it roused up the outrage and I had no where to go with it. I have had to focus on God & my relationship with Him so that I can be a up-beat influence to my family and my community and the disabled & elderly people I serve at work. I agree that anger and outrage , (though it is rooted in real causes and is justified) will not persuade people to conservative principles. I chose instead to love my very liberal neighbor who was rude and mean to me and my family, but now through serving them, and helping them with snow removal, and praying for them we are friends again. Christ’s love can and is changing the world!
It was refreshing to hear about a side of out reach we seldom hear,love your neighbor !!!!!!!!!!
What we need and what we get are two different things…Who was it that went screaming to court when their
child, who they had not taught to be loving and courteous to others, got a ruler on there hand or behind from
the teacher…A teacher who had to put up with abuse from a kid that had never been taught anything at home
but the Santa Claus B.S.,gemme, gemme, it’s my right to have everything I want and do what ever I want !!!
I could go on for a thousand pages but the bottom line is “You are reaping what You have sowed !!!”
Yes, our society didn’t change over-night from a responsible, productive one to one where a majority of the voters have their hand out and are too ignorant to understand that the giving up their freedoms for a free cell phone or a Section 8 housing voucher doesn’t end well. This process has been going on for decades and it has finally reached the tipping point where those who expect everything to be handed to them now out-number those who produce the goods and services that generate the wealth that pays for all the government’s “freebies”.
My daughter sits with her newborn in her arms and asks me, “Mom, will we all starve one day soon?” What kind of world is it where hope is so hard to find? Yes, I forwarded this message to her. Because it reminded me that we are children of the most high God. It is not clear whether we will or will not suffer such a fate, but it is clear that He will be with us and has a task for each of us that is ordained and meaningful, and we would be better served to keep our minds on those tasks. So, with that said, I think Mr. Habeeb’s plan is excellent. To be about remembering the things that God has done through this people and this nation. And to be about doing them all over again. That is a noble pursuit. Thank you sir, for that reminder.
GREAT ARTICLE BUT NOT ROOTED IN REALITY. BOTTOM LINE IS THAT 53% OF THE AMERICAN(??)
VOTERS VOTED FOR SOCIALISM WHICH WILL CLIMB TO 55% (OR HIGHER) BY 20014 AT WHICH POINT
THE SENATE WILL STAY SOCIALIST AND THE HOUSE WILL BE IN GRAVE DANGER OF LOSING ITS
ADVANTAGE. THE 53% ARE NOT INTERESTED IN STORYTELLING NOR LISTENING TO STORYTELLING
ABOUT AMERICA’S OR AN INDIVIDUALS SUCCESS. AS THE SAYING GOES “YOU CAN’T BEAT SANTA CLAUS.
The greatest weapon against force socialism is producing more jobs.Put up or shut up.The gov is not the excuse we need ,for all of us doing our part in job creation.
Totally agree with your article, but you don’t mention what I think is the main problem. That is term limits, 2 terms and out. Let them get back into the real world again and begin working for a living.
The very politicians you and I hope to replace via term limits would have to agree to pass this legislation in the first place. They are NOT going to vote themselves out of a job. They like the minimal work schedule, good pay, great benefits, and being exempt from all the legislation that they pass that effects the rest of us.
Wow, what a challenge! Your message rings true, Lee! With such things as the UN’s signed ATT, Project 21, Obamacare, and Common Core it will be difficult, but I like your posit of story telling. Quite frankly it is a tactic I haven’t considered since I am typically not the type being rooted in the sciences. And it is true that it seems to suit better my liberal friends since they gravitate more to the arts. It is a skill I definitely must give more attention.
And above all we have the Greatest Story Ever Told, a story that should never be kept to ourselves, but rather told and re-told in both word and action. HE IS RISEN!! And we have access to abundant life forever.
THIS IS THE MOST UPLIFTLING ARTICLE I HAVE READ IN YEARS. EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND APPRECIATE. I READ A LOT AND WATCH THE NEWS BUT IT’S MOSTLY DEPRESSING. THANK YOU AND I’M GLAD I’M A MEMBER OF AMAC,
THANK YOU, LORD, FOR GUIDING LEE HABEEB, IN WRITING THIS TO THE ‘AMERICAN’ PEOPLE..UNDOUBTEDLY THROUGH YOUR SPIRIT, AS THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT ALL OF US NEEDED TO HEAR! THERE ARE TOO MANY WHO LIVE THROUGH NEGATIVE NEWS OF PREDICTIONS DRAWN FROM PEOPLE, WHO SHOW AUTHORITY, THAT THEY ADMIRE…THEREFORE, IN THEIR MINDS THIS PERSON MUST BE RIGHT!
BELIEVING IN ‘ANYONE’ THAT HOLDS A POSITION, THAT CAN BE HEARD THROUGH THE ‘MEDIA’, SHOULD BE ‘GROUNDS’ FOR RESEARCH IN EVERY ASPECT. LOOKING TOWARD THE ‘WHOLE’ PICTURE THROUGH THE ‘PAST’…BRINGS CLARITY!
AS ‘TRUE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST’, WE ARE ‘RESPONSIBLE’ TO UPHOLD THE ‘TRUTH’ THAT SETS ALL HUMAN’S FREE FROM ‘NEGATIVE’ THOUGHTS WORDS, OR DEEDS! A PERSON ONLY REACHES THIS ‘FREEDOM’ IN THE POWER OF HIS CREATOR, WHO TRANSFORMS THEIR HUMAN SPIRIT INTO HIS….FOR THE PURPOSE SET FORTH FROM THE BEGINNING OF ‘LIFE’………………………IN CHRIST,……………..Karen Rose
yes, this is so true…the more we fret, complain, feel helpless….the more we become like the dog that chases
it’s tail ~~ hahaha. These truths he is speaking in this article….have the aura of God’s Holy Spirit.
What a challenge these thoughts are to us all! Like Jesus did..we need to turn “all things of good report” into
the stories that will inspire and move us and our beautiful country into a more heavenly place.
Wrongo!! It is not just “having a conversation with a target audience.” That is far too analytical and cold-sounding for the passion in stories. What stories do is to remind people of who they really are, where they really came from, who came along their path before them, and why they are here. They remind people of what humans have been and what they could be again in the future. Stories let people know that they aren’t alone in this cold Universe, that other lonely, frightened people with similiar enormous goals, aspirations, and human dreams have walked their same path, and that the courage of those who went before them is theirs as well. Stories are reminders of who we are that make human, and thus achievable, the dreams of those you have painted as merely a “target audience.”
If by stories, you mean relating, in positive, real-world examples, how conservatives principles can positively impact peoples’ lives, then yes, by all means, we need and should tell more “stories”. It’s called having a conversation with the target audience, instead of lecturing or preaching in dry, mostly detached facts and figures. Otherwise known as Sales 101.
Many in the GOP in Washington are very good at droning on and on about details most of the public neither understands nor can relate to in their day-to-day lives. Listen to how almost none of the Senators or House Representatives actually make an effort to make what they’re talking about real-world relatable. If you don’t do that, you lose the audience.
Worse yet, some in Washington can’t even spit out any actual information. There are those in the GOP leadership, that can only speak in very measured, vague sound bites. They talk to the TV camera, not the people. Then they wonder why the public views them as “out of touch”. They’ve been in Washington for so long, surrounded by the other lawyers that make up 98 percent of Congress, that they’ve forgotten how to have a simple conversation with an average person. In short, they sound “out of touch”, because they are out of touch.
Fortunately, there are a handful of GOP politicians in Washington, that are trying to educate the public, through making the information they’re trying to relay, both relevent and interesting to the general public. Those are the ones the GOP leadership needs to start copying, because we need many more like them all across the country.
The one thing I would potentially disagree with the author on is we don’t need anymore pure “storytelling” in Washington. If by “storytelling”, you mean facts and reality don’t matter and should be part of a converation. That politicians should just tell us “stuff” to make us feel good or make promises they have not intention or ability to keep, then NO. We already have someone in the White House very adept at “storytelling” and ignoring facts and reality to promote his feel good agenda. We don’t need any more like him.
I agree! Less complaining and more real stories of how individual freedom is best for all!