Wednesday 30 January 2013

Want to win an argument? Tell a story

Followers of politics will be aware of various rows which have rumbled on over the past week concerning some ill-advised portrayals of Israel and Jews.

Last week, ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Lib Dem MP David Ward alleged that the Jews hadn’t learnt the lesson of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day itself The Sunday Times published a misguided cartoon by Gerald Scarfe  depicting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu building a brick wall containing the blood and limbs of Palestinians. The paper's editor Martin Ivens has - following the lead of owner Rupert Murdoch - apologised.

Normally these kind of rows of left v right, party v party, lobby group versus lobby group morph into a tit-for-tat "you would say that wouldn't you" kind of impermeable barrier which exclude outsiders from understanding what is actually being debated. This morning The Times columnist Danny Finkelstein has written a piece entitled Lessons from the Holocaust? Try these two which deals with both these slurs.

Twitter users have been quick to share around the Finkelstein piece saying it is a "must read". I agree, and did the same, but why?

Finkelstein is a very clever and adept writer which allows him to communicate his arguments through frequent use of examples and, more often than not, vivid storytelling. Instead of getting caught up in the mire of Israeli-Palestinian relations (the tit-for-tat) he rises above this through telling one, awful, true story about his family and their treatment by the Nazis.   

This shows the power of storytelling to make a point, grab attention and persuade others of the merits of your arguments. What Finkelstein does is humanise the debate by talking of his grandmother, his Mum and her sisters. By doing this we make a connection with him and his argument, understand his point and emphasise with it.

There is much more on storytelling in Gavin Esler's excellent book 'Lessons from the Top: How Successful Leaders Tell Stories to Get Ahead'  which I recommend for anyone wanting to write or communicate better.      

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