The Power of Stories
You may or may not have seen the latest Star Wars movie. Raheel hasn’t seen the first or any of the others. So, excluding him, this was for many the ninth instalment in a saga. Started in 1977 and ending in 2019 – some 42 years later. A saga close to many viewers’ hearts.
Now opinion about the movie is divided. But let’s be clear; this is a story about some good wizards and bad wizards using magic for good or ill whilst flying around space with laser guns, giant teddy bears, little teddy bears and glowing sticks. There is a princess, monsters, pirates; the baddies have a big base, and the goodies are kind and loving and handsome.
It’s also in part at least, a fairly good story. Rags to riches, heroes and heroines, love, loathing, children and parenting.
So, whether you loved the last movie or not, you have to concede it has some power.
Good stories have POWER. People LOVED it or HATED Episode IX and felt like it had given them a perfect happily ever-after or somehow let them down. They are actually truly disappointed by the ending. Like it’s betrayed their affections and somehow cheated them of their heart’s desire.
I’m not putting those people down; I’m highlighting, again, that stories have power.
This story ranks fifth in terms of media power – at $70 billion. That’s seventy thousand million. Pokemon leads the way at $95 billion and Harry Potter is 11th at $35 billion.
Kids drag storybooks to you and look at you, begging with their eyes.
“Please read me a story.” Every day, every night. Ever was it thus.
Campfire cultural retelling of myths, legends and stories predates recorded history. Cave paintings were picture book stories of beasts and tribes and hunting and life.
Why have stories captured humans’ attention since the dawn of time?
Well, stories are incredible entertainment and they are something you choose, something you desire, something you want in anticipation of pleasure.
The kids, the movie goers and the theatre audience are there to feel pleasure.
The content of the story is not so vital as long as the story is good. Look at horror. A horror movie is still a story.
Even vile, repugnant depictions of gore and suffering can have a strong enough narrative structure to make you enjoy the experience. Bit weird, TBH!!!
Video gaming has a global market value of approximately 138 billion USD. Yes, you get to shoot the baddy and build the zombie fort and get your elf some new pyjamas (well done, clever little sausage) but it’s still part of interacting in a wider narrative structure. It still builds towards a chapter in the game’s story. You are still trying to reach the nasty giant crocodile king and shoot him with your special little gun (yes, boys, I am taking the piss – turn the Nintendo off and incline bench press – that tip is for free and you’re welcome).
JK Rowling , a welfare recipient, became richer than the queen because of her stories. She had the power to get tens of thousands of children queuing for hours to buy and read a book 700 pages long. Wow. They queued to read a massive, well-written book!!!!
Stories have power and good storytelling is compelling. Long after the influencers of today have woken up to their last day of smiley utopian perfection, their grandchildren’s’ grandkids will be reading and revelling in Dumas and Alain Fournier.
Think Potter, Baggins, Skywalker, Bella Swan, Darcy. Think Tolstoy, Eliot, Twain, Dickens and Shakespeare. Those names will all be compelling both children and adults for many decades after you and I are gone.
Most stories have heroes and romance, and ideally both. A bit like our own lives, we all want to be heroes and we all want love. Who knew, hey? Your patients are the same too.
It’s why you go to the cinema, why you binge Netflix, why you watch pretty girls on dragons try to kill prettier girls in castles, why you look forward to the solitude and peace of your home so you can read the next page without fear of interruption.
The world’s most expensive computational systems are in augmented reality and enhanced virtual worlds, realistic simulations, with which we can interact. Storytelling.
On some level, DNA-deep, we are adherent devotees to good stories.
And so are your patients.
Because stories make you feel. Feel something. Anything. They induce feelings.
Don’t believe me? Ok. Then answer this.
Have you ever, once, just once, fantasied about what you would do if you won the lottery?
Yes, you have, and so have I and so has everyone. So, did you enjoy the story? The phone call you’d make to your parents, the email to the practice boss telling him to shove his UDAs up his arse?
Now you fantasise about the story because the story gives you a little taste, an amuse bouche, if you will, about how it would actually really feel. It’s a feel-good story and it actually does feel good…maybe you’ve done it more than once….
Stories are adored as they make us feel.
Now I’ve jumped to a fairly advanced end point here. The storytelling skill is one of the most powerful aspects of emotional intelligence at the dentist’s disposal. Or indeed anyone’s disposal.
With sensitive wording you can make patients feel, make them tell stories in their head, for good or for avoiding ill.
Believe it or not there is a male-only ‘Learn How to Pick Up Women Industry’ – and it’s all over the world. It’s huge already and growing, and centres around using storytelling to be compelling, engaging, entertaining and funny. They teach men how to make women ‘feel something’.
So, learning to be a storyteller gives you power. That’s where I’m going with this. Making stories relevant to patients’ lives gives you threads of commonality to which they can relate. They may appreciate your candour, openness and authenticity.
Now if you are an ego-centric, insecure weakling and your conversation is limited by the emotional fragility and fear underpinning your everyday behaviour then your stories will probably fall flat as they will focus on either defending you from imaginary attacks or just glorifying you. You may be the protagonist, but don’t make yourself the innocent but persecuted hero. It’s boring and so are you. Go cry to your mum instead. She cares, we don’t.
So, don’t walk before you can run. Become self-aware, empathic and nuanced, develop your ‘mirroring neuro-circuitry’ and understanding of how others think. Then build. I’m not saying you have to be an emotional intelligence (EI) Jedi before you use stories, not at all. You just can’t be hopeless.
Mirroring is the subconscious mind’s ability to alter your behaviour and speech to build bonds when you meet other people.
It’s a natural behaviour where people with a functional EI take on the mannerisms and mood of those they are engaging with. It’s natural, subconscious and puts others at ease. More threads of commonality. It’s highly effective behaviour for bonding.
Honestly, if you met the Queen, do you think your accent might become just a little posher, just for the moment…? You know it would!
Carl Jung had this idea that your dreams and your imagination preceded your thoughts. We know thoughts always precede behaviour.
You think about what you are going to do then do it.
Extrapolating that means, more or less, your thoughts manifest into being via your actions. Your actions may be running, architecture, fixing teeth, dancing, teaching, writing, driving, picking a fight, etc. It doesn’t matter, but the sequence is: imagine–think–act; so it’s not unreasonable for us to conclude that we dreamed/imagined this world we live in into existence…I won’t go any deeper on that right now.
Let’s bring it back to patients. They like stories if those stories make them feel something. A good story in the patient’s head about what it’s like to have dentures may be enough to motivate them deeply into rapacious periodontal care.
Stories resonate with us all. They produce emotions and feelings in us that we like, and they connect us.
We love the cinema and plays and concerts because we can share the story experience with lots of others simultaneously. We talk about the story we saw with friends the next day. It made us cry, made us long for love, made us angry – whatever, it got in your head.
So how can we use stories to help patients and hence help us?
Well, first we have to understand what patients feel. What they want, what they fear and – above all – what they value.
I know as well as any that those characteristics are an incomplete list, and each varies for every individual person.
So I’ll end with a simple example. No-one wants to feel pain. Certainly not whilst they are lying supine with their gob open and you are elbows deep looking for a ‘nerve’ with a ‘file’ or a ‘drill’.
Forgive the repetition, but providing a painless experience is the single biggest influencing factor patients use to decide if you are a good dentist or not. If they value you or not. There are many others obviously, I’m not a dimwit, but this is the biggest. Always has been and will remain so for the foreseeable.
So the highest-value story we can use is to convince the patient that we actively are trying to avoid anything painful. That we hate to hurt people. That my prime intent is to give them a completely comfortable experience.
I need this story. I have one, and you do too. You have perhaps forgotten it, but it will be there.
It’s this: Do you enjoy hurting people? If not, how do you know? Tell the story of how you know.
Growing up as a young man isn’t always easy. I expect being a young lady has its trials, but I’ve not experienced that first hand.
My elder sister is only 13 months older than me, and for my youngest years was always physically stronger than me. We were always close and I’m blessed with two sisters who I love with my whole heart. Nevertheless, from time to time Helen and I would fight and I’d lose. She was notably stronger than me and she enjoyed the ubiquitous sibling conflict as much as anyone…
….until I got to about 12 or so.
I didn’t know anything was happening but …something was happening. Unbidden I was growing muscles. I had put on a few kilos without noticing, but was whippet-lean. The rugby, boxing, play fighting with mates and looming adolescence had started to make some changes which I hadn’t been told about. I hope you can imagine my surprise when soon after Helen played a trick on me, locked me out the house in the rain and we engaged in the inevitable physical fight, that it took three seconds for me to effortlessly hold her hands apart and bury my right fist in her gut. Full power, nothing held back, no defence.
Oh Shit. Oh buggering bloody bollocks.
I can hear mum and dad’s approach as I stare at my beloved big-sister curled up, collapsed, gasping and pale. A drool mix of saliva and vomit snaking its way south as her eyes weep and she wonders if she will ever breathe again.
Oh Deep Shit.
She had been really mean and, to be fair, I was truly surprised at my new destructive physical prowess, but as Dad explained to me what had happened, and what that had meant for her, I was filled with an utterly sickening guilt, a longing to make it ok (I still want to, and if she reads this I know she will call to tell me it’s ok).
A feeling of horror at hurting someone, let alone someone I love.
It left me with an everlasting clear, sharp, absolute, unrelenting certainty in my mind that I never want to hurt anyone ever again. That I will never forget that moment and what happened. That I will do everything I can to make sure I never ever hurt anyone – and that, Mrs Patient, includes you. I will not hurt you and now you know why. I just can’t allow it to happen and whilst you’re here under my care I’ll protect you in every way I can.
Stories have power. At Aspire we teach you how to find your stories and relate them to the patient. You’ll resonate, connect and build trust with your patient – that has to help you live happily ever after! Click for more information on our upcoming Advanced Operative Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry (PgCERT)!