A Lesson on Finding Hope Amidst the Toxicity

A few years ago, Jon Favreau gave a speech that was titled, “What I Learned From President Obama.” He told a few great stories about his experience as the head speechwriter for the senator from Illinois who was eventually elected president. But when it came time to list the things he’d learned, he ended with this:

The most important lesson I learned from President Obama was about the power of storytelling to instill a sense of hope, and why that’s so important right now. We live in very cynical times. That’s partly because we are being fed a steady stream of bad news. Scan the headlines on any given day and you’re bound to see story after story about a problem that can’t be solved, a war that won’t end, a disease we can’t cure, a plane we can’t find, a politician, a celebrity or CEO who lied or cheated or let us down in any number of ways…As a consequence, we don’t get enough good news…It doesn’t make the front pages when someone’s life is saved because she could finally afford health insurance for the first time, or when a poor child escapes a bad neighborhood thanks to a dedicated teacher…That’s why we need storytelling that instills a sense of hope.

If that was true three years ago when he gave that speech, it is even more so now. As someone whose job it is to write about the news of the day, I’ve often fallen into the abyss of what it means to immerse oneself in the toxicity that has engulfed our politics over the last year. It can be difficult to escape the cynicism and find a reason to keep plugging along as if there was some kind of hope on the distant horizon.

That is why on this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to do something totally different. Have you heard of an organization called StoryCorps? This is how they describe their mission:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.

As an example of the kind of thing that inspires hope in our shared humanity but doesn’t make it to the headlines, take a look at this story about the role Johnny Holmes played in the life of Christian Picciolini.

Do I need to remind you that one person like Johnny can have a lot more impact on the lives of young men like Christian than the guy who currently occupies the White House?

There are a lot of lessons we can take away from this story about what it will take to bridge the divide that has developed among us. Rather than spell them out from my perspective, I hope that hearing this story will inspire you to spend a few minutes pondering what they might look like in your own life. That is the power of storytelling.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.