Anatomy of a Story: Beto's Morning Run

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

I want to try a new kind of blog post where I highlight effective storytelling when it happens in our media culture. The hope is that through the lens of these examples I might be better able to share what makes storytelling effective as well.

Let me know what you think of this first post. It’s about politician Beto O'Rourke and a story he posted about a morning run shortly after the recent election.

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On November 15, 2018, a couple days after the midterm elections, congressman and former Senate hopeful Beto O'Rourke posted a story on his Medium account about a series of thoughts he had while out on a snowy morning run in Washington DC. You can read the post here. It’s a short, 3-4 minute read.

For context, the story comes after a midterm election in which Congressman O'Rourke had proven himself to be a rising star in the Democratic party. Although he lost his US Senate election, the fact that he was even competitive as a Democrat in a Texas statewide election was a revelation. He became a national star on social media, set records for campaign donations, and the enthusiasm his campaign inspired also helped with down ballot victories for Democrats, flipping multiple state and national legislative seats.  

The reason I’m writing about him here is because he understands storytelling. Throughout his campaign he was regularly inviting viewers to get a glimpse into his personal life and see who he really is. We got to watch live as he skateboarded in a Whataburger parking lot and air drummed to the Who in the drive thru after a debate. Social media followers were treated to impromptu conversations where his values were front and center. Obviously these moments of authenticity are appealing in and of themselves, but they tie in well to creating a larger narrative about the candidate as somebody that’s going to be open, transparent, and engaged in the needs of his constituents.  

This brings us to the story on the Medium post. It’s a good example of how every story we share adds up to a larger whole.  

I know many people and organizations--including some I work with--want to learn about storytelling in order to craft a quintessential flagship story that they can go to for all occasions. But this is not the power of storytelling. Storytelling is most effective when you have an idea, feeling, or vision and you express it through a series of moments. The moments are essentially small stories that combine to create a narrative. By sharing your vision in this way, your audience will infer the meaning for themselves. It will occupy a firmer space in their mind and “feel” like their own idea.

This all appears to be something that Beto O’Rourke understands perfectly and the Medium post is a good example. In the story, O’Rourke is out for a morning running and comes across a rather poignant series of thoughts. Rather than trying to explain these thoughts to us, he invites us along on the journey by which these thoughts came to him. Hopefully we come to the same conclusion as he does in the story, and even feel that pang of poignancy in our chest too.

Part of the feeling he might be trying to share at the beginning of the story is a feeling of relief. After the "blue wave" election I’m sure many people--including myself--are feeling at least a little more comfortable in America again. For O’Rourke, this is probably one of the few moments of unstructured downtime he's had in over a year. While running by the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial he relishes in “all the mystery of being alive.”

At the top of the Lincoln Memorial he reads the words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address and has this reflection:

The words, describing the country in the midst of Civil War. The reasons for the war. Slavery. The masterful, humble invocation of God. Acknowledging that both sides invoke his name and saying of the South: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” That he could pronounce this judgement and then remind himself and us that we should not judge…

It harkens back to one of his most viral campaign moments when a military veteran expressed his disappointment for football players kneeling during the national anthem. While acknowledging that he appreciated the questioners opinion, O’Rourke also basically said that he 100% disagreed with him and even turned the situation around to suggest we also need to pay our respects to civil rights activists who have died in their efforts to make the country better too.

He also reflected on this line from Lincoln’s address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…”

Perhaps O’Rourke sees his mission as one much like Lincoln’s; to united a divided country and “bind up the nation’s wounds…” That’s not a question we can definitively answer, but the story makes it clear that it’s definitely something he’s thinking about.

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I hope this style of blog post was helpful. Let me know what you think. You can either leave a comment below or shoot me an email directly. If there’s enough interest I’ll do more of these. I’ll even take requests!

Want some help with planning your own stories? I've got the perfect tool for you. Sign up below and I’ll send you my Story Planner Worksheet. It will walk you through the basic steps of crafting the stories you can have handy for when you need them.