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Book-Burning Party: Change the story, then change the world.

Last week at the Climate Reality Leadership Training in San Francisco, storytelling guru Andy Goodman led a spellbinding session on the importance of “changing the story.”    Goodman described research that confirmed what many of us have experienced:  in a public debate, a misleading but vivid anecdote can trump reams of data and logic.    (Anybody remember Ronald Reagan’s wildly exaggerated “Welfare Queen” imagery?)

So often, the only way to dislodge emotionally-charged disinformation is to tell a better, more compelling story.

To see this principle in action, check out this wonderful little clip from Goodman’s Free Range Thinking newsletter about a successful campaign in Troy MI that defeated the Tea Party and saved the city library.    Lots of lessons here! 

Update 8-27:     Want to know the ‘story behind the story’ in Troy?    Check out The Book-Burning Campaign That Saved a Public Library.     Apparently, Troy (pop. 81,000) has a Tea Party mayor, Janice Daniels.   (Daniels made national headlines last year when she declared “I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there,” and compared homosexuality to smoking.)

Daniels and the  local Tea Party oppose all tax increases, for any purpose.   Though local surveys showed that nearly 3/4 of Troy citizens supported the library, very few were planning to vote in the library referendum.    To counter voter apathy, a local citizen group enlisted (mostly pro-bono) help from an ad agency, Leo Burnett, where  two “creatives” conjured up the reverse-psychology “Book Burning” campaign.

In the end, the measure to save the library passed by 58%.    Yet even some library backers, though thrilled with the result, did not appreciate the ruse.    Does a worthy end justify a mischievous means?

Stay tuned:   The tempest in Troy continues November 12 with a vote to recall  Mayor Daniels.


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4 Responses to Book-Burning Party: Change the story, then change the world.

  1. Makan says:

    What an awesome example! The payoff for audacity is huge! I wonder how audacious we can become with climate messages?

    • Tom Smerling says:

      That is exactly the right question. Note that the “book burning tactic” — taking Tea Party rhetoric to its logical extreme — is similar to Steven Colbert’s satires.

      Maybe we need to launch a campaign to “Burn Fossil Fuels Faster — Let’s Heat Things Up!” with suggestions for actions every citizen can take, national policy recommendations, and descriptions of all the benefits of a hot, fossil fuel-dependent world!

    • Tom Smerling says:

      Good point. Satire always carries this risk, which Wikipedia summarizes this way:

      “Poe’s law, named after its author Nathan Poe, is an Internet adage reflecting the fact that without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism.”

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