One of the most powerful aspects of story lies in its ability to turn a ME into a WE.
As business owners and brand leaders, this is perhaps one of the greatest powers we seek to wield.
We want to tell story in order to convince others to join our side.
We want them to think like us, act like us, choose like us, move like us, talk like us.
And while it all sounds devious when framed this way, the truth is something we’ve all known inherently – the stories we tell can either bring us together or tear us apart.
In his book, Influence, famed psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini outlines his 7 principles of persuasion. When he gets to the principle of unity, he says this:
“Automatically and incessantly, everyone divides people into those to whom the pronoun we does and does not apply. The implications for influence are great because, inside our tribes, everything influence-related is easier to achieve. Those within the boundaries of “we” get more agreement, trust, help, liking, cooperation, emotional support, and forgiveness and are even judged as being more creative, moral, and humane. . . thus, successful social influence is often pivotally grounded in “we” relationships.”
30 pages later, he further illustrates this point by sharing this snippet of history I had never before heard:
Pre-December 6, 1941: Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fled Nazi Germany and sought refuge in Japanese-held territory (particularly in the cities of Kobe and the Japanese-controlled city of Shanghai).
Post-December 6, 1941: All refugee passage in and out of these cities came to an abrupt halt.
January 1942: Hitler uses the Wannsee Conference in Berlin to formalize his plan to annihilate all Jewish people, and Nazi officials put pressure on Tokyo to carry this plan into Japan.
I’m sure a true historian could tell you all the nuances that took place to convince Japan (a full-fledged member of the Axis alliance) to say NO to the greatest madman in all of history, but Cialdini points to just one reason.
Just months before the Wannsee Conference, Hitler had sent colonel Josef Meisinger (the Butcher of Warsaw) to Tokyo. While there, he tried to convince Japan to exterminate the 18,000 to 20,000 Jews who had found refuge in Shanghai.
High-ranking members of Japan’s military government wanted to understand WHY they should listen to Meisinger, so they called in two highly respected Jewish leaders – Rabbi Moses Shatzkes, one of Europe’s most brilliant Talmudic scholars, and Rabbi Shimon Kalisch, renowned for his knowledge of social psychology.
When the Japanese officials asked both Rabbis WHY Japan shouldn’t join the Nazi’s mission against the Jews, Rabbi Shatzkes offered no response — muted, it seems, by his factual and historical knowledge of the Jewish people’s long-oppressed history.
Instead, it was Rabbi Kalisch who saved his people that day, using his knowledge of human behavior to gain the sympathies of the Japanese officials.
He knew that facts and reason alone didn’t hold enough persuasive power for the moment.
So instead, he spoke just six words, choosing to turn a ME story into a WE story.
“Because,” he said. “We are Asian, like you.”
Through those words, Rabbi Kalisch reminded Japanese officials that under the dark and twisted Nazi ideology that declared the Aryan race as innately superior to all other races, the Japanese were no different than the Jews.
In their difference, Rabbi Kalish found a story of unity — a story where WE became far more powerful than ME. And it worked.
“Go back to your people,” Japan’s most senior official told the Rabbis. “Tell them. . . we will provide for their safety and peace. You have nothing to fear while in Japanese territory.”
The WE stories we tell as business owners won’t likely hold the same historical weight as the one told by Rabbi Kalisch (at least, we can pray they’ll never have to), but. . .
. . . his story is irrefutable proof that when we remind our audience that we are one of them and they are one of us — in spite of all the messy, real-life details that try their damndest to tear us apart — powerful connections take place >>trust, loyalty, collaboration, unity.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m desperate for those types of connections right now.
Need help writing your brand’s WE story? Here are 2 ways I can help you get started: