The Stories We Tell Ourselves – By Brenda Cooper

The stories we tell ourselves matter. If tell myself a story of apocalypse, I will see the frightening headlines as truths, feel the drumbeat of oppressive news scrolling across the tiny glass screen in my hand, and I’ll sense the distrust of my neighbour who is one political flag short of a full-on raving lunatic from the other side.  But if I tell myself a story of hope, I’ll see the frightening headlines, and I’ll also see the story about a solar-powered village in India and another one about how the war in Ukraine might push shifts to renewable energy to the forefront. I might say, “Thank you, yes,” when my neighbor offers to help with my fallen tree and have a pleasant conversation about his new chickens.

I write science fiction, climate fiction, poetry, and occasionally, non-fiction. I’m a casual futurist and a professional technologist. I know the power of story.  At work, I can help people accept new systems and new ways of thinking by telling good stories.  In fiction, I can help people feel the emotional punch of hope.

I’m not talking about blind hope, or ignoring the bad things, for there are many true scary stories now.  It is a frightening time.  But it also a time when there are triumphs.   So let me tell you a story about a triumph.

When the wind blew, Jeff’s town had light and water. He could study for his second-year math tests after dark without using a candle, and there was fresh water to make hot tea with when it grew chilly in the evening. But when the wind didn’t blow, there was only what his mom could eke out of the small portable solar cell his sister had sent them from Canada, and the water they had saved from rain for in the barrels they filled from the well on windy days. 

Then one day, eight huge trucks trundled into town, bouncing along next to the rutted road. His father and the Mayor and three other men helped cut the sheep fences and Jim used the dogs to keep the sheep away from the trucks.  This wasn’t hard, since the trucks were large and bright coloured and had made scary squeaking sounds. The sheep worried.

One of the trucks spit out huge robots that men drove, and the other trucks had all the parts of buildings in them. The robots dug a big hole and poured in concrete.  Then they put the buildings together the way he might use his building block and pulley set. He wished he could get closer, but his father had him stay out on the field with the animals. For three days, the men and the robots worked. Wind threw sand and spoil at them and the great windmills on top of the ridge turned and turned. Then on the morning of the fourth day, the robots drove into the trucks, and the trucks jostled away down the road.

After the men fixed the fence, Jeff could finally look closely at the building, which was seven times taller than his two-story house, strong, and open to the wind. He counted ten great concrete blocks resting on the bottom of the building, attached to chains and pulleys.

They didn’t move.

When Jeff went in for dinner and asked his father what the building was, his father smiled, tired from fixing the fence but with his voice full of warmth.  He said, “Wait and see.  You will be able to tell me what is it soon.”

For the next week, the wind blew and the building worked. The concrete blocks slowly climbed the chains at the behest of a great motor buried under the blocks. The motor worked during the day, but stopped at night, perhaps so that the children of the town could sleep?

Then, one day, as it always did, the wind stopped.

The concrete blocks began to fall.

The well kept working

That night, he could do his homework, and his mom and dad put on music and danced in the living room even after his bedtime. They even let him stay up and dance, too.

Over breakfast, Jeff asked his father, again, how the building worked.

His father smiled and said, “Think about it and tell me.”

The next three days the wind stayed away, and blocks fell slowly, and then came to rest at the bottom and the well stopped working and the lights went off.  But the following day, when the wind came back, the blocks started to rise again.  Suddenly Jeff knew, and he ran in to tell his father, “It’s a big battery!”

His father beamed.

This is a story based on a news article about concrete batteries. Stories can be used in this simple way to illustrate how a technology might work.  Stories can also be used to handle far more complexities. The best recent example of climate fiction that grapples with the multiple layers of change needed to succeed and thrive is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future. Even on the simplest level, such as adopting either a belief that we will destroy ourselves or a belief that will find a good future, the stories we tell ourselves, our children, and others matter.

About the Author:  Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a writer, and a futurist.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest portion of the United States.  You can find out more about Brenda at her website,

The Stories We Tell Ourselves – By Brenda Cooper

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