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Imagine it Forward: Courage, Creativity and the Power of Change

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Beth Comstock, Chase Jarvis

Transcript of the video:

This is really maybe the main theme of history as a discipline, as an academic discipline is to explain how come over the centuries people came to believe in particular stories about gods, about nations, about corporations, about human rights and not in any of the alternative. There are thousands of different stories going around in the world about God or about money or whatever, how come people eventually came to believe this particular story and not any other?

Much of the study of history actually focuses on this question and, of course, we should emphasize that it doesn’t always work. It’s very difficult to convince everybody to believe in exactly the same story which is why humans have suffered from so many conflicts and woes and resolutions and revolts. Sometimes people think that humans fight for the same reason that chimpanzees or baboons or wolves fight. We think that we fight about food, we fight about territory, but this is not true. The vast majority of woes and revolt and revolutions in history were not about food or territory, they were about fictions. They were about stories.

If I take, for example, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict which is going on for many years now and you ask yourself what is it about. So it’s not about food, there is plenty of food, there is enough food between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River to feed everybody. And it’s not even about territory even though the area is quite crowded, there is enough territory to build houses and schools and hospitals and workplaces for everybody.

The problem is that you have two groups of homosapiens, each with a very different set of fictions in their minds, different set of stories in their minds and as long as they cannot come up with a single story which everybody can believe they fight each other.

And you see the opposite example say in the history of Europe over the last 100 years. We are just now marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War. There was no shortage of food in Europe in 1914.

Again, the conflict was not about food, it was about basically stories, different fictions in the minds of different people, but eventually at least in the second part of the 20th Century Europeans manage to come up with a single story which everybody could believe. The Germans and the French and the Italians and the Spaniel then the British, everybody could believe in the same story and then you had peace and European unity. So both war and peace are very often not about food or territory, they are about these fictional stories.

This video was filmed as part of the Big Ideas Speaker Series at Rotman on February 18, 2015.

Beth Comstock is the former vice chair and chief marketing officer at General Electric. She is a corporate director at Nike and a trustee at National Geographic Society, as well as the author of Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.
Chase Jarvis is an American photographer, director, artist, and entrepreneur. Since April 2014, Jarvis has been the chief executive officer of CreativeLive, an online education platform that he co-founded in 2010.