Love a good news story? I doubt it.
Earlier this week I was sitting on the couch, telly was on, I was scrolling through my phone and suddenly BAM! Something as simple as a powerpoint slide posted on Instagram created a hundred pictures in my head, made me feel about a thousand things and spurred me into action (it was a busy 10 seconds in my head).
Physio Tasmania had posted a picture of a graph from the World Health Organisation letting me know that Physical Inactivity is the 4th ‘leading cause of attributable global mortality and burden of disease’ aka: likely reason for death and illness… and there I was sitting on the couch.
Did I get up and do ten squats? No. Did I look at myself in the mirror in disgust? No. Did I text a friend to organise a walk or a PT session? No. Did I think about who those inactive people were and what they might be doing right at the moment? Yes. Did I wonder what the extra challenges are that’s stopping some people, clearly many people, do what they know would make them healthier and live better, longer lives? Yes
Perhaps some of them were sitting on the couch staring at Instagram.
One of the big reasons I joined forces with my sister Lucy to create our company Healthy Tasmania was to help support all people to live the best life they can. We do that by leading projects which help improve the individual, social and economic health of our communities, supporting people to be as well as they can be, for as long as they can be. We believe making and sharing real stories is an important part of this, as it allows people to see things from perspectives they may not have considered. It makes people feel something. However, lately, I’ve been grappling with how to do this well.
We see fitness bloggers getting hacked on for body shaming, then body image positive groups accused of excusing unhealthy lifestyles. There are positive health stories from down trodden communities that can seem token and then there are negative stories from those same communities that seem exploitative. There are beautiful photos of healthy lunchboxes making people feel envious or guilty or both and easy healthy dinners that we all look at but then don’t make.
The shortage of hospital beds makes the front cover of the local rag while a story about a free yoga program that brings a massive cross section of the community together in a park, making them less likely to need a hospital bed, only makes page ten (but we do thank you VERY much for covering it ). With all the work there is to do on the ground in health prevention, it’s understandable that it can be a tough choice to spend money telling the story too.
I get it. I worked within the media for 10 years. I’m just frustrated by it. Frustrated that humans are… annoying. There are loads of psychology studies explaining human ‘negativity bias’ which suggests evolution has programmed us to remain vigilant for threats, meaning we can’t help but be drawn to the bad stories. Other studies have shown when we hear stories about negative events we have a bigger emotional response and they remain in our memories. There have been news outlets who’ve only reported good news stories for a day and lost three quarters of their audience.
I get it. But, like a child who stamps their foot, I don’t want to have to tell stories about the Tasmanian’s living with smelly gangrenous feet from badly managed diabetes or tell stories about communities who have such severe problems with head lice, parents with low levels of health literacy and little money resort to putting flea collars on their kids. It’s the best they can do with the resources they’ve got. This is happening. Here.
Imagine if us humans spent less time being outraged by hospital waiting lists and spent more time celebrating (and funding) the ways people are keeping their names off those lists.
I’m often asking myself “If we want to affect change, what are the stories that will do that well”?
The post from Physio Tasmania worked for me. However, everything we know about storytelling tells us that a 'data only story’ won’t affect everyone and it most likely won’t be memorable. Perhaps now you’ve read this, it will be.
The post affected me, it made me feel something. Not shame, not comparison, not outrage. It made me consider where I sat on that graph. It made me think about what sort of community this graph was reflecting. It made me realise it was mine. It made me feel that I wanted to do something… which is good, because I am. We are. Are you?