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In the last Language Lab, we talked about how oxytocin and dopamine generate generosity. I said there was more to say about oxytocin and storytelling. Here’s the more.
The One Thing You Need to Know: Tell stories about one person. Not thousands of people. Or hundreds of people. Or even two people. One person. Singular.
Why One Works
You’ve likely heard the saying: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” (Who said this first is up for debate, by the way.) These are words to live by if you’re looking to get people jazzed about your world-changing work.
But why? The arithmetic of compassion. That’s why.
- Visualize one puppy
- Now visualize 1,000 puppies
Which visual was stronger? Likely the one of the one puppy. Your brain could fill in all the adorable details–her brown eyes, her black, twitching nose, her cinnamon colored, white speckled ears. Oooooooohhhh. Adorbs!
What about the image of the 1000 puppies? Still cute. Cuz they’re puppies. But fuzzy. Lacking details. Just a mass of puppiness.
Fuzzy masses aren’t compelling.
Bonus Bit: Not only do people respond more to one person/puppy, they feel better when they’ve helped that one person/puppy. So by telling the Story of One, you not only grab people’s attention more easily, but–if it comes to pass that they donate–they feel better about their donation. (Can you say “win/win”?)
- Don’t just tell the story of one–show the story of one. Pictures drive the point home. They light up the parts of the brain that make someone feel generous. (Back to the oxytocin…)
- “Compassion fade” is a real term and a real thing. From Paul Slovic et al, “ Our capacity to feel sympathy for people in need appears limited, and this form of compassion fatigue can lead to apathy and inaction…” If you have to, have to, have to talk about more than one person, try to make them a unit. Like a family or a cohesive community.
- Still not sure how to wrap your brain around all this oneness? This super short story about a boy and his starfish is for you.