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Storytelling for Respondence

Do you know the difference between reaction and respondence? Respondence builds resilience.


This week, we are building on the case for storytelling and resiliency by turning to respondence. Respondence is intentional and does not depend on subconsciousness. Reacting to stimuli or threats is often compulsory and not deliberate. So how do we break from our hard-wired or programmed reactions to achieve respondence? And, why would we want to do this?

The Brain, the Story of You is a PBS series and book compiled and authored by David Eagleman's body of work in Neuroscience. It explains how our subconsciousness is supposed to work like a partner with our consciousness. Functioning properly is the operative word here. Properly functioning together, the subconsciousness is supposed to handle our lower-level tasks to focus on our more difficult challenges or problems.

The problem set Acorders began exploring in the Summer of 2020 coincided with research in Johann Hari's latest book, Stolen Focus. It detailed some of the negative consequences in our brains following various technology adoption. So, Acorders is looking at how storytelling can offer a path to rebalancing our operating spheres. Respondence should interact with our subconsciousness but not wholly rely on it.

So how do we do this? There is a strategy to respondence. Make it routine by exercising it often. Mind mapping is a visual way to depict how our neural pathways apply a hierarchy to coding and transferring information we need. Good storytelling can help us create mind maps for appropriate risk responses.

The Fabel Narrative

Traditionally, stories have been used to convey wisdom across generations. We are now starting to understand this better following research in neural coupling, for example, at Princeton. With neural coupling offering synchronicity between storyteller and listener, we see fables used to teach, caution, and inspire. In the properly functioning relationship between subconsciousness and consciousness, we know how the fable plants a seed of coded information for our lower-functioning brain to access and respond appropriately when called upon. Acorders seeks to build on this by accessing storytelling for perceiving and responding to threats.

Black Swan

Black Swan, the Impact of the Highly Improbable, is written by Philosopher, Statistician, and former Options Trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It takes a look at highly improbable events. It goes so far as to suggest that the bell curve used in statistics may no longer be a valuable tool in our globally connected and increasingly digital world.

In the book, Nisim depicts two worlds to support his arguments. One, "Mediocrastan" (where material or physical constraints and limitations prevail; where revenues are always constrained by a function of material productivity or output; and where the naked eye can observe economies of scale happening in real-time). The second is "Extremistan" (where revenues can scale exponentially, where discernment by the naked eye is hard to achieve, and where many materials or physical constraints and limitations go away entirely or are significantly altered).

I think we can simplify this by identifying "Mediocrastan" as a primarily pre-digital world and "Extremistan" as a post-digital world. Taleb depicts increasing complexity as we progress towards conditions like that found in "Extremistan." So, are we saying that technology is bad? Not at all. Acorders sees the upside and the downside to work with here.

Concluding Thoughts

We did uncover some troubling signals during our problem analysis, conducted through fieldwork in design. One observation into how deep the problem set was felt, exposed an overall hopelessness felt by many. We saw ideas like Thomas R. Malthus', Malthusian theory resurfacing and finding favor in a world that had previously seemed to move past this in the 20th Century. So, is society inevitably designed to break down? We see systems in the natural world depicting this, for sure. Material and physical limits do prevail at the moment. But, Acorders suggest that for Malthusian theory to be wholly relied upon, we would have to ignore the world conditions in Taleb's "Extremistan."

So, technology has undoubtedly brought us challenges but it can also be harnessed to deliver some incredible solutions. We caution against losing sight of this while falling into error traps of absolutes. Acorders is providing a digital experience for storytelling. We believe stories can deliver the desired impact when we access resiliency through respondence. Join our online community to learn more. Sign-up to be the first to test our app experience during the design process.

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1 Comment

Charlie Grantham
Charlie Grantham
Feb 20, 2022

Wonderful. Wah Hoo!

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