Melissa Waggener Zorkin
WE Worldwide

When I was seven months pregnant, my house burned down five days before Christmas. My husband and I were traveling in different directions when we got the news, and we raced back to find a smoldering mess where our new home had stood.

We lost our things. We lost our place. We lost our balance. Our story was distress. But then, at Christmas, a friend came over with a piece of art, a poem from 17th century Japan:

“Since my house has burned down, I now have a better view of the rising moon.”

That poem refocused me on what matters most. My family was alive! Stuff? Stuff doesn’t matter. Building my family? Creating a better world? THAT matters.

Many people think the power of story is in its ability to inspire, to bring hope — and sometimes it is. But I believe that stories have another power, too: to reframe, to flip problems and transform perspectives, to help us to see the moon beyond the smoke-filled skies.

Last month, I gave the keynote address at the Seattle Interactive Conference, one of the coolest tech conferences in one of the coolest tech cities in the U.S. As I stood on that stage and looked out past the footlights, I was bowled over by the concentration of talent in the room: all the visionaries who disrupt industries and figure out better ways for us to live and work; the creators who develop the web and mobile applications we use to enrich our lives and connect with others; and the designers and creative thinkers who bring beauty and meaning to our digital world.

Thanks to the great work all these people do, we’ve got more and better storytelling tools than we’ve ever had before — but what are we doing with them?

As we bounce from one crisis to the next, how do we tell stories that make people stop and listen — really listen? When everyone’s got a megaphone, how do we stop each other (and ourselves) from simply blaring our opinions past one another instead of turning down the volume and turning up our empathy?

I call this the Story Gap, and I think it might be one of the greatest problems of our generation. We talk at each other, but we’ve stopped listening. By not listening, we make understanding impossible. And when we don’t understand anybody else’s perspective … well, that’s how we got here to begin with.

So, together, we find ourselves at the threshold of an enormous opportunity: the opportunity to close that Story Gap. We can take messages that need to be heard, connect them to the right audience in unexpected ways and build momentum that creates meaningful change. We can create understanding. And when we do, I really believe we can create a better world.

But in order to close the Story Gap, we need to think a little more expansively about why we do the work we do. We need to define our purpose, and we need to act on it — every day.

Here at WE Communications, we call that practice of purpose #forWhichWEStand. #forWhichWEStand means we climb bigger mountains. It means we listen — and hear — across difference. It means we anchor in integrity, authenticity and honesty, even when it’s hard. And it means we don’t just tell stories — we make them. We make it possible to see the moon through the smoke.

Recently, WE Communications did a global study called Brands in Motion that examined the rational and emotional drivers that motivate today’s consumers and their choices. What we found is this: even — especially — in these turbulent times, consumers crave stability.

What’s more, to consumers, “stability” often means “purpose.” Half of our respondents in the U.S. say they expect brands to take a stand and share their point of view on important issues — especially on the issues that directly affect their consumer base.

It’s important to note that purpose alone won’t make a brand successful; their products and services have to meet consumer expectations, too. You can’t have impact without credibility. But our research clearly shows that brands that elevate purpose — brands that don’t just hashtag #forWhichWEStand, but actually stand for it — are more likely to succeed than those that don’t.

What’s the lesson here? What does all this have to do with storytelling? What does it have to do with you?

If brands do better when they have a purpose, it stands to reason that we do, too. And each one of us has tremendous power — it’s literally at our fingertips. Everyone reading this has the power to pull the Story Gap closed. Everyone reading this has the talent, and the tools, to start telling new stories — great stories. Stories that move people to action; stories that move people to change.

That is just the kind of purpose I’m talking about: the trailblazing, transformational power of true communications. We can stand up for our values. We can amplify empathy. We can keep on asking the question “to what end?” — and we can do our best to answer it. We can be clear, steady voices in a chaotic world. We can tell the truth. We can change the story. We can see the moon.