The Power of Story: Chico’s Lament

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Ponder this photo. Cool, right (if you’re on mobile and can’t see, here’s a link).

Blown up giant on a wall, without anything else, you might well enjoy looking at it, just something about it. You might even want to buy a print.

Now, sit back, I have a story to tell you…

What if I told you this dog, he lives in a little bohemian surf village on the southern-most tip of the Nicoya Penninsula in Costa Rica. His name is Chico and his owner is an old surfer named Santiago. They do everything together.

Every day for the last 10 years, at exactly 5:40am when the sun rises, Chico and Santiago walk together to the ocean’s side where Santiago paddles out into the morning surf. All the while, Chico stands at the water’s edge, watching over his dear friend, keeping vigil, waiting until he comes back. Setting the surfboard on the morning sand, they sit on the beach and watch the sun crest over the waves as Chico leans in and Santiago gently rubs his belly.

And, what if I told you that one day, about a month before this shot was taken, Santiago and Chico came to the beach to find unusually rough surf. But, Santiago, a lifetime friend of the water, gave it no concern and paddled out past the crash of the waves.

Chico, as always stood watch, but given the size of the waves, couldn’t see his old friend. Hours passed. Chico remained. But, much to the sorrow of the entire village, Santiago was lost to the ocean that day. He never returned and Chico had to be scooped up, against great resistance and brought to a dear friend of Santiago’s to stay.

Every day since, as the first light of day breaks into the sky, Chico wanders quietly, now alone, to that same spot. Steps gently into the surf and waits for the day that Santiago will come home.

This shot, it was taken on just such a morning…

Does that change the way you feel about the picture?

Here’s the interesting thing…

In the enjoyment of everything from art to business, the work, product or brand itself makes its own statement and evokes its own emotion. Without more, that can be powerful. It can provoke, engage, intrigue, inspire, conspire, devastate, elevate and move you.

But, there’s often a second layer of connection and emotion that goes untapped as a mechanism for complimentary, if not deeper emotion, inquiry and understanding.

That element is story.

When you add the power of story, an art form on its own, to already powerful imagery or sound or movement, the blended effect can become transformative. Alone, the art and story each make beautiful statements. Together, crafted and woven into a seamless experience, they often provide context, emotion and power that neither, alone, could.

When it comes to illuminating and elevating the human condition, more levers inciting inquiry and potentially lifting people higher is a good thing.

There is, of course, a secondary benefit when it comes to marketing…

The perceived value of everything from a work of art to a product, brand or even entire company can skyrocket when wrapped with a compelling story. Because now you’re not just buying art or a thing or service or brand, you’re buying the story, the lineage, the connection to a deeper set of emotion and expression.

You’re also buying relevance. The right to invite others into the experience and not just say, look at this, isn’t it beautiful, but rather, look at this, now…let me tell you a story.

You get to become not just the buyer of the thing, but the keeper of the flame.

You get to stir an emotion, give a bigger gift to others and, along the way, increase your social currency in your tribe and deepen the sense of belonging in a way the work without the story might never evoke.

And, in a world where true belonging is harder and harder to find, where more people are increasingly feeling the crush of isolation, that’s not a bad thing.

Which brings us back to the story of Santiago and Chico.

Is it true? Local legend? Conjured to make a point?

Good questions, all…

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20 responses

20 responses to “The Power of Story: Chico’s Lament”

  1. Welcome back and thank you for this gift.

  2. Ian Robinson says:

    Excellently written Jonathan. What a powerful story. I lost a friend to waves in Costa Rica once before. He went swimming in Puerto Viejo, CR one day and never came back.

    You’re writing is so good. In this post, you’ve switched the emotions behind that photo at the top from, happy/curious to sad/tragic and finally to sly/mysterious. Great work.

  3. Giovanna says:

    Thank you for this post. It was just what I needed to remember at this moment. 😉

  4. Jonathan, what a great story! I DID love it!

    The moment I saw the picture, I knew it was deep and when I asked myself why, I knew what the outcome had been even before I read the story.

    When I finally did read the story, the story and emotion combo made me cry. Yep, story is powerful. But I think it’s more powerful when it’s true….because its “truth purity” has the greatest potential of evoking the most powerful emotion. For example, we can listen to a spooky tale and be scared, but fear, will never be as inherently powerful as feeling love. I’ve heard and felt everlasting love. But I haven’t heard or felt everlasting fear.

    And looking at Chico’s body language, I can see that he is on edge, alert and waiting. Like someone would be waiting for a loved one to return.

    Stories help us make sense of the world. And while they may be subjective, because we all see the world differently and even stories themselves differently, even a fiction story helps us tap into our own truth, our yearning and our values.

    And more times than not, Love is a powerful character in the most compelling stories that deserve being treasured and keeping their flame ablaze.

  5. We all need to think about living our own story. Making our fictional selves into fact.

  6. Interesting. The line … “Is it true? Local legend? Conjured to make a point?” disturbs me.

    So much of the recent copywriting training I have been exposed to lately has promoted story-telling to move the intended audience without regard for the responsibilities that come with the stories we tell. It makes me shudder, as if moving people to act or buy is the sole purpose in our marketing and any way there is acceptable.

    Personally, I think we have a duty of care when we tell stories designed to affect emotion in our listeners or readers. I feel manipulated and betrayed when my heartstrings are plucked to move me to act and then I learn that the foundation was untrue. More so when the story’s purpose is to entice me to purchase a service or product.

    To me, it matters whether it is true or conjured. If I am to become the keeper of the flame, I don’t want to find that it was just the equivalent of The Yule Log playing on my television.

  7. Monique says:

    Agree with The Sparkle Fairy…it makes a huge difference to me if the story is true or not.

    So, is it?

  8. Melissa says:

    Art + Story = Magic that everyone’s into. Thank you for this.

  9. Satish Iyer says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    A very well written piece indeed. You have beautifully shown how a story underlying the product/image/person helps the audience relate or make a connection.

    Many regards,

    Satish Iyer

  10. nicholas smith says:

    you haven’t disappointed me yet with the “here’s the thing” cliffhanger Jonathan, which I’d add is a figure of speech that over-promises constantly in other lesser-writers prose. I’m starting to see the phrase as your signature.

  11. Indika says:

    Welcome back Jonathan!
    I’ll admit it, you caught me totally off-guard. Wow man! That story just transformed how I related to that picture. I just want to hug little Chico right now.
    You made an important point in a very powerful way… in a way that I am not going to forget.
    Thank you and warm regards,

  12. Wow. I rather suspect I’ll be quoting heavily from this, over and over again. Thank you.

  13. Jonathan,

    The story touches the heart and opens the mind to the possibilities for connecting in ways that mere information can’t. The picture before the story was just a pretty picture. After the story it was a portal into the soul of everyday life, death, joy, sorrow, and new possibilities. Gratia Gratia Gratia.

  14. Ticolo says:

    Is it true? Local legend? Conjured to make a point?

    The story is obviously b.s. but the point about added value thanks to the story is great.

  15. Linda says:

    What real difference does it make if a story is true or not when it speaks to the heart of an individual and can act as a power source in the improvement of an individual life. This improvement can take the form of physical, social, emotional, spiritual, etc. As for being misled in a commercial sense extricating from someone a monetary purchase or donation (or even an emotional investment); does this still not go to the betterment of the individual affected by the story (in the big scheme of things that person acts out of their “true” self) despite the misrepresentation of the storyteller (that burden is for the storyteller to shoulder) and does not change how and with what motivation the donor acted? Neither of the before stated sentiments take into consideration or addresses the sad state of our society wherein exist the scoundrels that are not interested in being forthright in their actions (storytelling) for the betterment of others but are led by their own greed. My statements herein are made to only those of us that have read the above story and can process its multidimensionalism.

  16. Great post, Jonathan. This is a great example of how our relationship to an image/thing, etc. shifts when the story changes and what amazing storytelling can do.

  17. Jen Wewers says:

    So glad I finally found you and your voice! (and the voices of all the other tribe members)

    I have been reflecting a lot on story and it’s impact. In the nonprofit fundraising world where I do most of my storytelling, I wrestle with the entrenched focus on eliciting emotion to raise more money. The end does not justify the means. It is having a cheapening effect on our communications.

    The truth of the stories of the missions I work with are powerful enough on their own. What I am learning is that it requires a different kind of listening and openness. And trust in the reader.

    I am with Sparkle Fairy’s “truth purity” idea. For me, genuine story telling that rings true at a deeper level requires the storyteller to be as vulnerable, open and humble as the one who is sharing their story.

    That’s what creates the connection that makes all of it so alive.

    Thanks so much for posting and for all the comments…I loved how this one resonated.