One morning on my way into work the office a few years back, I heard a story on the radio. A reporter was traveling in China and he'd offered to take a few young men back to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year.
One of the young men he was driving home offered to connect his iPod through the radio. His song of choice: Country Roads by John Denver.
I was immediately taken back to an 18-hour road trip to Ft. Lauderdale with my college friends. Screaming classics like Wagon Wheel and Country Roads, munching on Slim Jims and slurping gas station slushies til our mouths turned to blue and our bellies to grease. 18 hours in a five-seat Subaru Forester. All seven of us.
I immediately connected with these strangers in this story — I immediately felt more attached to their heading home for Chinese New Year.
As the piece fades out, the song is played again. Denver’s milky soulful melodies slightly washed out by the cracking, off-key sounds of a bunch of dudes in a car singing — enjoying a trip I’d taken before. Immediate connection. My eyes filled with tears.
Needless to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve cried at NPR. Perhaps it’s the perfect concoction of a 9AM city commute, combined with the ironically private experience of being in your car by yourself (ironic because anyone and everyone who passes you can see exactly what you’re doing … or singing). Mix in the addition of the perfect balance of catchy transition music, personable and human reporters, and just enough curious background noise to suck you in. Nonetheless, there is power in good storytelling, and there is also power in telling a good story. (Those seem like they’re the same, but they’re not.)
Research shows that more people are drawn to news that is more negative in nature: this disease, that trial, this horrible cabinet member cough cough, that terrible company (Tonight at 5).
But research is also starting to show that when it comes to online social, people aren’t looking for the next negative thing. They want positivity — stories that make them feel good. This little girl committed 600 acts of kindness in a year. That manufacturer is becoming completely zero-waste.
Last night on the Indivisible radio podcast — which is an incredible and open conversation talking through the new administration’s first 100 days — the two commentators leading the discussion mentioned that the 2016 presidential campaign was the most negative in American history.
All throughout history, the most positive, optimistic campaign has won. Every time. Except this year.
All the more reason for us to embrace a positive story. All the more we shine when we start fighting for what is right. All the more we must stay focused on the truths we hold to be self evident — keep our eyes, our words, our actions on the things that make America so freaking great.
How do we make for a positive story?
We start with living a positive story.
We treat people well.
We go the extra mile for close friends, new friends, and strangers on the street.
We share life's joys and connect with people from all walks of life — over weird-it's-a-small-world-kevin-bacon strong connections or simple little things like John Freaking Denver.
We pick up the phone and call our grandmothers.
We smile at panhandlers even when we don’t have any change.
We stop dragging our feet at the mundane.
We start skipping in the sun.
One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, says it well:
“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn't mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It's a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.” – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life