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The power of stories

It has become well-recognized that stories drive social and policy change. Rather than data, persuasion, or even logic, stories are what change hearts and minds. This is because we are hardwired to view the world through stories which conjure images that, consciously or unconsciously, inform our beliefs. The most impactful stories are personal narratives that provide memorable first-hand accounts.

Successful campaigns have consistently demonstrated this, from the Civil Rights Movement to the legalization of same sex-marriage. Narratives create collective societal memories and beliefs with lasting impacts. This informs our values and what we accept as normative, or “right” and “wrong”. Even in a society that is polarized, stories have the unique power to establish common ground in our collective consciousness—and to disrupt the dominant narrative that normalizes inequities and oppression. 

“Working at San Quentin State Prison, I had the opportunity to get to know patients over several years, and kept hearing the same stories about growing up in environments filled with trauma, violence, and/or poverty. I eventually realized that that in order to fundamentally improve outcomes for my patients in prison, we really need to delve deeper than treating symptoms and illnesses and do something to address the cycle of systemic and health inequities that got them there in the first place. These stories need to get out to humanize and break down these issues for the general public and policy makers to see the missed opportunities and how we can do better.” 


— Jenny Espinoza, MD

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