To motivate change, we must tell three stories: The story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.
The Story of Self
The story of self tells of moments in our lives when values are formed. What did we overcome to explain the choices we make?
If we don’t tell our own story, someone else will interpret it for us. Usually the interpretation goes: These guys are just greedy shits who think this is a great opportunity to make money. It’s not always a bad story; it’s working well for Uber.
Here is an example of a story of self:
There’s an episode of Beavis and Butthead in which a girl gives them a dollar to go away. They walk to a gas station and go up to the attendant. “One gallon of gas, please.” The attendant refuses to sell them the gas because they have no vehicle. They instead use the dollar to buy a lottery ticket and win. They use their winnings to buy a riding lawnmower, which they drive to the gas station and finally purchase their one gallon of gas.
This is a story that shaped my formative years. I grew up believing that to own a car is to purchase freedom, to transcend arbitrary rules set by authority.
The Story of Us
Who is being called to action, and what experiences and values do we share as a community? What have we been through to know that this is the right thing to do?
Continuing the previous example:
Ostensibly, Beavis and Butthead is an irreverent cartoon. But at its core, it’s the voice of a generation.
Beavis and Butthead are led to believe that they will be able to enjoy the same basic comforts as their parents, but find that they must shoulder a hefty upfront cost that barely justifies the single-gallon benefit they receive in the end. This is only a quiet auspice of the generational theft that would later follow in the forms of Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare.
The millennial story is one of regression. Previous generations migrated from cities because they were polluted, crowded, and conducive to the spread of disease. We move back to cities today because the employment landscape and housing crash destroyed our prospects of stability.
We want to believe that the option for a liberated life will be waiting for us when we are ready for it. Someday we’ll move out of our birdcages and start a family in a house with a garage and a car and we’ll drive our offspring to summer camp and soccer practice. When we are ready, will this option still exist?
The Story of Now
This is a story of urgency. The world out there is incongruous to our aspirations. The conflict between our values and the current situation forces upon us consideration of choice. What will we choose?
And the story continues…
45 years after the invention of the automobile, it became illegal to ride a horse on public highways. Now we have self-driving cars that might be even faster and safer.
Joe Green of FWD.us posited this question to an assembly of congressmen: “How long will it be before personal cars are illegal on public roads?” The average answer was 150 years, and he was considered un-American for even asking the question.
“Americans love their cars!” Americans loved their horses too, and it only took 45 years to ban them. The choice was easy: Americans opted for cars because they were more convenient.
We choose to move into urban environments and forsake vehicle ownership because we think we reserve the right to change our minds at any time. But as we continue to box ourselves into an infrastructure where self-sufficiency is discouraged, urban issues will take precedence and dreams of autonomy will be forgotten.
How many people know what it’s like to ride a horse at full clip? How many of today’s kids will know what it’s like to drive a car? When our future wives go into labor, how will we get her to the hospital — With Uber? Why will future generations opt for car ownership if they can’t even fathom it?
Will self-driving vehicles and public transportation render personal cars obsolete? Only if humans forget how to drive. We are defined by free will, our ability to deviate from a pre-programmed path. So give your vehicle a hug, fire up your engines, throw an egg at a Google car. To occupy an autonomous vehicle is to become subservient to a drone.
Telling Your Public Story, by Marshall Ganz –Kennedy School of Government