Lisa Murkowski and the power of story

Stories may have saved my life. Millions of people’s lives. So if you’ll forgive one more blog about the healthcare debate—well, debate isn’t the right word since there were no hearings. But you know what I’m talking about. The power of story stiffened some Republican backbones. In this case, Senator Lisa Murkowski‘s.

Lisa Murkowski

Back in early June, Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress tweeted this excerpt from an unidentified article about a story one constituent told Murkowski. The senator recounted it to the press:

“She just needs to focus on getting her body whole, but she’s got another series (of treatments) to come up and she was saying, I can’t focus on myself … because I’m so worried that something’s going to happen to my health care and I will be labeled with a pre-existing condition and I’m never going to be able to get healthcare again,” Murkowski said. “It’s these types of stories that remind me that, no, the importance of a timeline is not nearly as important as getting this right.”

We don’t have the actual story the cancer patient told to the senator. But look at what Lisa Murkowski retained of it:

  • I’m worried
  • I can’t focus on getting well
  • Afraid of losing my healthcare
  • Afraid of being labeled with a pre-existing condition

Clearly the senator connected emotionally with the story. She remembered the fear; she empathized with the woman’s need to focus on her recovery.

What if Lisa Murkowski had heard this instead?

What would have happened if the patient had said to the senator instead:

“Senator, I have cancer. Please don’t let them take away my healthcare.”

All we have in the first sentence is fact. A devastating fact—no one takes cancer lightly, not even (I suspect) a Republican. But still, there’s nothing there to connect with. No details. No emotion.

And I’d bet it would produce no action. Not even with the “please” in the request.

And while we’re on the second sentence, calls to action need to be positive. Tell someone what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. So, “Please fight hard for Alaska’s cancer patients.” Or “Please tell the Senate we need coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

But whatever you do, tell a story—a specific, emotional story. Stories like that can change the world.


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