Image credit: umjanedoan, used under Creative Commons license.
When I was busy organizing our green wedding, the caterer worked with a local farmer to source sustainably reared pork. A friend then told me a story about that farmer—claiming that she kisses each pig on the nose before they are taken in to the slaughterhouse. I never got around to confirming that story, and have recently realized I don't need to.
Stories themselves are as important as facts in our search for sustainability.I am not, of course, arguing that facts don't matter.
Had the story been about a factually significant practice that either improved animal welfare or environmental sustainability, there would indeed be a value in checking if it were true. (The dissonance between the "story" of organic eggs and the actual conditions on some farms being a case in point.)
But this was something different—a parable about reverence from one farmer for the animals they steward (and ultimately have killed), and a resonant reminder to all of us that life should be respected. Whether the pigs actually received a peck on the nose or not seemed besides the point—the point was that this was an entirely plausible scenario for a farmer who loves their animals.
It's a topic that also came up when a friend was convening a group of story tellers as part of a Transition Town initiative. When asked what the end "product" of that story telling group would be, the response was a push back at the focus on product—arguing that a story is product enough by itself:
"Culture is story. Our current cultural story is based on an extractive economy, where material throughput (product) is prized and health/well being are marginalized. [...] We invite all "Transitioners" to co-create this new story. We have found unexpected outcomes in the telling of stories that make the radical transition that must occur seem not so scary after all."
Whether we are addicted to oil, or just falling out of love, the narrative thread is not just descriptive but transformative too. We can't separate the taste of an organic egg from the story of how we came to eat it, and we can't point the finger at eco-villains without changing our own views on culpability and responsibility.
The stories we tell ourselves matter. Let's tell them well.
More on Stories and Sustainability
Are We Addicted to Oil, or Falling Out of Love?
Who Are the Real Eco-Villains?
Soil is Not Dirt. Why Words Matter in Protecting Our Earth.