Why People Believe You, or Don’t

While your past is a great source of untapped power to you, what makes people believe in you as opposed to thinking about you comes down to the narrative you tell. Rightly or wrongly people categorise and label you to separate themselves from the totality of your experience. Thus, our stories have to move beyond the point of filling the bookshelf and be on the table ready for enjoyable reading and continuity of well-being. In other words, for any visionary or innovator, it is essential to cross the chasm of disbelief to belief, connect doubt with hope, and to risk taking the faith of leap into a new world.

Every remarkable story feeds on faith and truth. Look at Galileo. He lived at the boundary of medieval and modern worlds and became convinced of some ideas that were, in his time, considered unorthodox, odd & crazy, i.e. the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, not the other way around. He couldn’t explain his new ideas in rigorous observation of numerical codes and mathematical laws thus; he took to explain his concept in the form of dialogues which made room for digression and deviation from perceived truth.


So what is the widely held belief you and I need to confront in our current stories?

It is my opinion that one of the beliefs we must defy is that perpetual borrowing (in any of its forms) is the pathway to economic success and happiness. Only when the majority of the population can locate themselves inside a story of insupportable debt will they belong and participate in a narrative of genuine debt-relief. It is why the ‘Jubilee’ movement struggled to make a greater impact in the millennium. Voices were resonating from churches, trade unions, even rock stars, but they weren’t believed in sufficiently to become the new reality and usher in a financial moratorium for third world countries.

Granted, what is happening in countries like Greece is now accepted as fact. But what is the average UK or even Western citizen doing about the issue of over-borrowing? How are the EU and other major nations committing to solving the ongoing crisis of crippling debts?

While journalists can write papers and politicians prevaricate about growth versus austerity, most of us have yet to encounter a dramatic and direct consequence of living through the tragedy of debt. Self-interest in the UK economy continues to trump collective action. The insupportable debt of many of our citizens, national institutions, and governments continues to be hidden away in bank vaults and electronic files. And the truth is our collective guilt is not yet frightened enough into action. Instead, we find ourselves fearful, pessimistic, and impotent.

A new story approach is necessary for those of us who live in ‘negative capital’ and the ‘modern slavery’ of unreconciled monetary burdens. We have become accustomed to debt, but it is not normal. Greece and many other nations are useful external validators to many of us about the world’s debt crisis. However, for the vast majority, the Greek people are a trivial example of recklessness spending beyond means. But, was the myth of the Greek story to keep up with the Joneses in the rest of the world or part of a bigger narrative that pervades all our world, namely economic growth defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of wealth is a supreme value in a material world?

Until a new financial ethos, monetary authority, and an economic pathway is created using unexpected combinations of stories of justice, truth, and reconciliation, few of us are free from the false notion that perpetual indebtedness is good. The fact is a poverty of generosity has swept our world and our ongoing fad for conspicuous consumption, and inability to redeem the financial system through debt-write-off, inhibits us not helps us.

To change our debt-ridden world requires an attitudinal change. It demands a spiritual act: an act of repentance, where those who live under constant financial threat become equal pecuniary citizens (not economic outcasts) with those who dwell securely and comfortably in their substantial funds. Those with wealth need to prepare to serve the wider community by writing off debt. They need to gift part of their wealth and income to develop a more sustainable economy for the benefit of all, including their happiness. And, I do not mean through the tax system (our governments need debt cancellation as much as our institutions and individuals), but by a new economic conscientiousness that encourages forgetfulness and fosters a generous Jubilee.

I’ll explore some more of this with you in my next post: “The Dog Secret.”


The 1-Sentence Bio

“They can’t have it both ways,” “so many of them are having a hard time letting go,” and “it’s like their security blanket.” These are the recently revealed words of former US President Bill Clinton to Tony Blair discussing the psyche of Sinn Fein members during the Northern Ireland peace process. Not only did Irish Republicans want a guarantee for their security and safety, but they also needed a meaning to their lives in the new Ireland. In other words,  it’s all very well telling a new story, but where do you begin?  It’s the toughest part of a new thing: the beginning.

My hero, Brian McLaren puts it another way. In the Huffington Post talking exclusively about his book, We Make The Road by Walking, he writes: “many of us have walked the road of our tradition to where it currently ends, and we’ve come to believe that the road isn’t finished yet. We seek neither a denial of the past nor an enslavement to the past. Instead, we seek to faithfully extend the road of Christian tradition from the past, through the present, and into the future. So we make the road by walking … and our quest continues.”

To make that first step on any new path, you need a start. As Clinton also commented, “you are asking them (the Sinn Fein audience) to put a little white bread sandwich in a lunchbox and go off to work in the factory. It’ll be hard for them.” But making the sandwich must be done. Although a prawn and mayonnaise one scattered with dill and served in a crisp granary loaf might sound marginally more attractive.  Do you get my point?  

In my new world of writing and protesting about debt and economic injustice, the starting point has been the creation of both a personal mission statement and a set of 1-sentence bios. It’s not incongruous to have both. One sets out your principal aims and objectives while the other makes for a useful soundbite so that an audience can decide whether you’re worth listening to or not.

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In my case, the personal statement is: “my mission is to order, teach & inspire to see liberty, providence, and fortitude for debtors, discontented and distressed.”

But this is expressed differently on my Facebook bio as something far less obnoxious and boringly earnest:

“Inspirer, writer, liberator; Jonah & the Whale is my story; knows some of the best chefs in the UK.”

or, indeed even my Twitter profile as:

“Freelancer | Writer & Storyteller | Inspiring decency, forthrightness & honesty | Insupportable Debt | Dog-walker, Leeds fan, know some of the best chefs in the UK.”

There’s no sense waffling, nor bragging in your bio. Your audience will pay no attention. But engage your audience with a free hand: assured; talented; and encouraged. Your one-liner has to be an offer of an amazing gift, so do not hold back.  And it can be different according to the platform/media.

Whatever audience you attract, the next step is to inquire as to who within that conversation is of greatest worth to your story and listen to their opinions. Your greatest value to them is probably not what you think it is! Then, move on to another group within your audience and greet it. If they accept your innovation, engage them, if not move on. Remember, not all of your audience will be harmless, so be wise.  

Eventually, your innovation or story will get noticed, and opposition arise. Don’t worry about it. Your response to friend or foe will come naturally to you. And in any event, a little vulnerability is a good thing: it reminds people you’re not so different from them.

One other thought for now: when you write your bio be clear whether you are writing it in the first or third person. The tension in the first person is between your unique perspective and what is happening in the outside world. The balance in the third person is what your audience sees in the outside world and what is going on from your perspective. I’m just saying, it affects others perception of you.


How to Answer, “What Do You Do?”

When I first saw the future direction of my life post-bankruptcy, I was in fact captured by the brilliance of another man’s stories. My hero was a somebody else. That man was a prominent Christian pastor, Brian D McLaren. McLaren, a former US college English teacher, is an author, activist, public speaker and leading figure in the emerging church movement, who uses fictional characters to describe theological progress through philosophical novels and dialogue. During my enforced sabbatical, I spent a considerable time listening to, copying out, researching and studying his stories, which blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction to form principled arguments.

Disembarking from McLaren’s journey to develop my own body of work has not been easy. People consistently ask me the question, “What do you do, or even, what do you want to do now that you are free from bankruptcy?”

Without pigeon-holing myself as an apparent failure in the dog-eat-dog world of business, and the arena of hospitality equipment sales, articulating my new story has, at first, meant passing away the old, renewing myself with the present and walking the new road with its ongoing risks and uncertainties.

My answer to this question often remains provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting a new belief that clarity (perspicuity) is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity. You see my new story has to be easy enough for others to understand, and yet interesting enough to make me a trusted guide for others.

And so, to envision a new story, a more beautiful story, there has been a need for me to firstly, dwell on my past experiences to make relevant my current context and goals. Secondly, to wipe the slate clean from past pain and suffering by naming the crossroads that clarify my unique niche and position. And finally, to define my area of newness and innovation instead of endlessly justifying and defending what I do. Thus, if someone today asks me “What is it I do?” I only say, “I write and protest – and my words and actions are trustworthy and true.” That’s the simple part; the intrigue is the next bit … I write and protest about debt and indebtedness.

I don’t claim that I am the only authority on debt, but I’d like to imagine a new kind of finance, where those who are victorious will be the indebted and, the cowardly and immoral, who practice loose lending at usurious interests rates will be consigned to the world’s garbage bin. In other words a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement, proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against money, and a breaking down of the injustice of consumerism.

To recap then: your character in business needs to trump your credentials, you need to hone your unique backstory to give you confidence as to who you are and then explain what it is that you do without putting yourself in a box. The next step is your 1-Sentence Bio.