A crisis of connection – the power of a good story  – Part 2 

Written by David, ReWild Yourself Team Member. 

Broken connections are at the heart of global crises. To fix it, we must speak to the heart.

This is part two of two. Find the first part in the Explore page under Musings.


In the first part of my long musing, I made a case for why stories are at the very heart of driving positive environmental change, helping us create shared understandings of the world around us, linking cause and effect and reinforcing our values and a consensus of opinion and belief.


In an attempt to also be constructive, rather than just critical, I also presented a few tips on how to grasp the right moment and organise and use your message. In part two I  take a look at structure, tone, understanding your audience, and choosing the right messenger.


These are drawn from our own experiences at Voice for Nature, as well as the wonderful storytellers we have been lucky enough to work with. Let us know if you have any other good tips!


Get the structure right

Most good narratives follow a basic structure: exposition, climax, resolution. Basically, set the scene, introduce your characters and any important context, introduce the threat or issue, then provide a means by which that issue can be addressed (the happy ending). This is just as true in a good joke as it is in a Hollywood epic. It is the structure we are most comfortable with, linking cause and effect, and taking people through a sequence of understanding, concern and then agency.


The right balance of dark and light 

Too much (or just) exposition, which is common in a lot of engagement campaigns, and people are left more informed, but not necessarily engaged. Facts aren’t enough. Too much climax, however, or focus on the drama, peril, and negativity (as has been seen in a lot of climate change narratives) only works with those already highly engaged; even then, too much gloom can be numbing or paralyzing.  According to the Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions, people have a ‘’, so we should be mindful of how many times we go fishing in it!


Conversely, if a narrative is overly positive, with a heavy focus on resolution, and low on peril or exposition, sometimes referred to as ‘brightsiding’, it can be lacking in the ability to create sufficient impetus to act.  Anecdotal research suggests there seems to be a sweet spot somewhere in the middle (for environmental campaigns at least), acknowledging the seriousness of an issue and that it isn’t going to be easy to solve, but being clear that it is very much surmountable, especially if tackled together, as a community.


In fact, emphasizing togetherness, shared experiences and values seems to be important, as well as drawing upon examples of occasions that communities have pulled together in the past. Previously, people might evoke the ‘war effort’ as an example, but COVID-19 gave us a new and striking reference point of what communities are capable of when needed.


Understand your audience

Another important ingredient to building a narrative is understanding your audience. Single unifying narratives are rare, so in most instances you need to tell a story that will work for specific audiences you are trying to engage with. Without knowledge of their history, values, habits, priorities, levels of understanding, fears and concerns, you will struggle to create a compelling story. The best use of narrative will involve meeting people where they already are,  then shifting perceptions or understanding so that their values and concerns begin to feel aligned with your own cause. For example, if you were trying to convince an ex coal mining village to embrace a renewable energy project, it would be a mistake to focus on the negative climate impact of burning coal, as this could feel like an attack. Instead, it would be better to appeal to the proud and effective industrious spirit of the community. Try to cast your audience as potential heroes, never the villain.


Trust the messenger

Finally, perhaps the biggest determinant of whether or not you can gain control of the narrative and tell a story that engages and moves people, both physically and mentally, is trust in the storyteller – are they my ‘type’ of person, do they believe in and value the same things as me? If the answer is no, then it doesn’t matter how well structured and how well told your story, it is unlikely to be believed.

It is a sad fact, especially true in our current climate of division and mistrust, that if you are not trusted, then neither will the story you are telling. There are several ways to address this, but they all take a bit of work. One way is to build bridges between yourself and the communities/audiences you wish to engage with and strengthen those relationships through transparency and collaboration. Another way is to find the right storytellers, individuals or organizations that are trusted within the communities or audiences you wish to engage and use those voices or platforms to tell your story.

Voice for Nature Foundation

ReWild Yourself is an initiative from the Voice for Nature Foundation, a charity working to reconnect people everywhere with the natural world.

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