Narrative Intelligence: A Breakthrough Ability for the 21st Century

You can provide people with all the data in the world on the need to change direction, but they are not likely to act any differently than they did before. However, a powerful narrative that touches the heart can move people to reevaluate their situation and make changes. A unifying story of an individual, group, organization, or even country can become the maypole around which people dance, promoting collective meaning and group harmony.

Stories are powerful containers for values, insights, and meaning formation. By recounting a vibrant personal history or describing significant moments of development and change, stories capture meaningful insights that can endure through time.

Narrative intelligence enables us to evaluate stories for their accuracy, their contribution to wisdom, and their relevance to our lives. Archetypal narrative intelligence provides the ability to understand and work with the power of stories—from everyday to archetypal and mythic ones—that can transform our lives and work.

The following are high points about what you can do to improve your functional IQ and EQ (Emotional Intelligence). As you are reading, you can rate your ability on each element of narrative intelligence by thinking of times when you exhibit the abilities listed. And if you identify something you do not know how to do now, that can be an invitation to move into a learning mode. All of these are things you can learn to do.

Developing narrative intelligence proceeds through many levels:

  • At level one, you are able to check narratives against facts to assess their accuracy and usefulness.
  • At level two, you can recognize whether such narratives remain true in another context, and thus gain the ability to match plotlines to situations.
  • At level three, you are able to identify the stories you take in, and thus protect yourself against being manipulated or tricked.
  • At level four, you can reflect on the stories you tell others and yourself, reframing self-defeating or limiting stories as narratives that provide greater possibilities for happiness.
  • At level five, you can observe what stories you are living and how they are affecting your quality of life. You can begin to observe this same pattern in others and utilize this ability to improve your relationships and communication skills.

Archetypal narrative intelligence adds five more transformational abilities:

  • At level six, you become aware of the archetypal stories that are motivating you, so that you can experience deeper meaning and motivation. You can shift from lower levels of that archetype to more evolved ones. To consider whether you can do this, you may want to dip into the information on the 12 Archetype System to help you recognize archetypes in and around you.
  • At level seven, you begin to recognize that sometimes you are a character in a larger archetypal story and work to develop the ability to transform this larger story by transforming yourself (i.e., being the future you want to see).
  • At level eight, you are able to attract others to live a larger story together through the inspiration of the stories you tell and embody.
  • At level nine, you come face to face with the shadow sides of archetypes in people and groups. You begin to integrate awareness of such negative potentials and then mine the treasures they have been obscuring.
  • At level ten, you begin to understand past and present wisdom traditions in terms of their mythological, metaphorical, and symbolic meanings, gaining access to the mysteries of living and dying well.

If you identify narrative intelligence skills you do not yet have, you may wish to explore how to develop them. The concluding chapter of Persephone Rising and examples throughout the book provide a toolkit for developing all ten of these narrative intelligence skills.