When I was a kid, I played Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book for a class theatre piece.
Though I had grown up deeply connected to the natural world—climbing trees and even eating honey directly from the hive—I had never so deliberately delved into the imagination of creatures.
In fact, while studying for my part, I was constantly thinking about life from nature’s view, exploring ways to share my comic songs to ease the troubles of my wild friends. I learned of empathy by understanding the oppression of the elephants. I learned of unconditional love by praying for the tiger, despite the complaints of my classmates. I even dreamed of creating my own stories to help others understand their fights or follies.
This experience has never left me, and for some timeless reason, nature’s jungle metaphor is coming back over and over again in the world.
Let’s focus on politics, for example.
In this campaign season, politicians seems to be playing out similar timeless animal metaphors: a deadly snake appearing friendly, a tiger who incites violence and an unlikely bear (or was it a finch bird) who has shocked a corrupted world with compassion and integrity. There’s no doubt that each of these animal-leaders are out to “save the humans” and their “red flower” of danger, albeit with varying strategies or worldviews. The snake and tiger seem focused on winning for selfish gain, which is backed up by the Fox News broadcasting stories of divisiveness and individuality.
The bird (or was it a bear) meanwhile, has come along to share a vision of free education, fair economics and labor, and offering a message that “we are all in this together!”
But let me not give away my personal preferences. I’m not here to go into partisan advocacy for certain animals over others. I’m actually interested in discussing the notion of metaphoric storytelling in swaying public debate.
The truth is, this is a question that humans have long posed in our social change movements and business ventures. Using the iconic “red flower” metaphor of fire, Obama has said things like:
“I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress.”
“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”
This may seem obvious to some, as there can be no doubt that much of politics is a debate of history and linguistics, where the vast majority of our language is actually derived from our interpretations of the natural world. Still, in times of great change, the power of metaphor and storytelling might be a good way to contextualize current events or perspectives.
To that end, I invite you to look for those places where our candidates use metaphor, storytelling, and other devices to sway the hearts and minds of the masses. Such stories will define our critical path into the future. After all, as The Jungle Book’s snake, the tiger, and the bear continue to remind us: each and every one of us is essential to making this planetary theatre go on.
To explore more of my experiments with storytelling, metaphor and messaging, check out my latest music video called “Feel The Bern”
Author: Aaron Ableman
Editor: Catherine Monkman