A Storytelling Lesson from a Viral Baby Bear

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

You may have seen a recent viral video of a bear cub and it’s mother struggling to climb up a snow covered cliff. It was a riveting two-and-a-half minute story as the cub, desperately trying to join it’s mother atop the ridge, struggled to find footing, slipped numerous times in the loose snow, and at one point appeared in danger of sliding all the way off the mountain.

Yet the baby bear never gave up! With every set back it persevered in climbing up the cliff, and finally rejoined it’s mother before the two off them ran off to a stand of trees. 

The video got a lot of attention, with people seeing it as a story of tenacity, persistence, facing challenges, and overcoming adversity. But there was a darker side to the story too. 

Wildlife biologists saw the whole situation differently. 

As detailed in this article from the Atlantic, the footage was obviously shot with a drone, and both wildlife biologists and drone enthusiasts have lamented the irresponsible way in which the drone operator filmed the two bears. At one instance the drone appears to fly especially close to the bears, causing the mother to panic, and inadvertently knock her cub back down the cliff. It’s also possible that the two bears found themselves forced into such a vulnerable position in the first place because they were frightened by the drone and trying to get away. The Atlantic article is also an important read on the effects drones have on wildlife in general. 

I bring all this up because there is an important lesson about storytelling to be gleaned from this situation too. 

As humans we perceive almost everything we observe through the lens of storytelling. We do this to interpret the meaning of a situation and better understand our world. It’s a natural and almost unavoidable aspect of our nature. And sometimes it means we completely miss the reality of what’s going on.

What’s interesting to note that part of the reason the video became so popular is because of humans’ anthropomorphizing their own stories on to the plight of these two brown bears. As I mentioned above, many people saw it as a story of persistence, tenacity, and overcoming adversity; but the stories we attach to this situation can also be highly informed by our own personal values and framing of the world.  

For instance, if you’re the type of person that values persistence, that’s very much what you might have seen in the video. If you’re a concerned parent, you might have focused your attention on the mother bear in the video and imagined her distress as she waited for her cub to reach the top of the ridge. If you’re the type of person that believes in “tough love” or the inherent harshness of nature, you might have perceived the video through one of those lens. It’s even true that those of us who see the video as an example of an irresponsible drone operator probably do so because of our own framing and values around preserving nature and protecting wildlife. 

On a personal level, I caught myself getting especially anxious as I watched the bear cub taking the long slide down the mountain. I worried that there might be a cliff it would slide off. I couldn’t help but think of my own current situation as I work to create a business around teaching storytelling. As I’m sure anybody who has ever attempted to start their own business can tell you, there are many times when it feels like you might slide off a financial cliff if you’re not careful. It was fascinating to catch myself supplanting my own situation onto that of a baby bear somewhere off deep in Siberia. 

I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this video too. Do you remember how you felt when you watched the original video and how you perceived the story? Did your perception of the story change when you read the critique from the Atlantic article? Leave a comment below, or in the original social media thread for the article. 

Here is the video if you haven’t seen it yet. 

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