The Power of Story


Desmond Berghofer


As an author and student of literature for as far back as I can remember, I have long been fascinated by the role played by story in human affairs.

Human life on the planet has always been anchored in story. While knowledge of the earliest stories shared by our primitive ancestors have been lost in the mist of antiquity, the records we do have dating back many millennia reveal the role that story has always had in the lives of people in their communities all over the world. What they tell us is that people traced out their earthly existence according to the myths they told themselves in pockets of different cultures persisting through many generations. 

Myths of Separation and Conflict

The stories differed vastly over time and geography. Earliest known stories, for example, from the island of Crete In the Mediterranean, reveal a peace-loving culture honouring the role of the feminine and worshipping the goddess. In contrast, patriarchal societies emerged in northern Africa and the Middle East where wandering bands led by warrior chieftains fought with each other in conquest of territory, until they settled into civilizations that maintained a condition of tension and distrust of the other across arbitrary borders. The myth of separation between individuals and societies that still divides us today dates back to this time.

On the northern shores of the Mediterranean, similar civilizations in ancient Greece and Rome embraced an ethos of war and conflict, and created a plethora of capricious gods and goddesses in the image of their own disputative societies. The superiority of the warrior class was honoured and immortalized in the narrative poems of Homer and Virgil, and celebrated in the conquests of Alexander and Caesar. At the same time, the power of rational thought emerged in philosophy and mathematics and gave rise to early scientific thinking. Cemented with the warrior ethos of conquest and domination, this rational thought laid the foundation of the story that has been the mainstay of Western society ever since, which has transformed the world many times over and at the same time proved impervious to the core teachings over two millennia of a gentler religious story of Christianity.

Progress through Domination and Control

In the second millennium CE, the ascendancy of the scientific method and the discoveries it yielded about the nature of the universe and Earth’s place in it provided another twist to the story line that underlies our modern worldview.   This was modified again with the development of industrialization, the emergence of a pseudo science of economics, and the prodigious power of technology to enhance the physical and mental capabilities of human beings. Underlying all this, the twin myths of domination and separation remained firmly in place setting the context for dark days ahead for humanity. 

The cumulative result of this millennia-long story telling is a dominant narrative in the early years of the third millennium CE that humanity is on a trajectory of progress towards ever increasing abundance fueled by never-ending material growth.   The path to the attainment of these objectives is through domination of all competitors and control and conquest of the natural environment.

A Fatal Flaw in the Story Line

Unfortunately for the generations alive today and those still unborn, there is a fatal flaw to this story line, which is still largely unacknowledged by leaders in charge of industry and world affairs. The story is based on a contradiction, that it is possible to have infinite expansion of material things on a planet with finite material space and resources. The impossible story has not gone unchallenged by a variety of voices in recent decades. The same science and technology that fuels the myth of never-ending material growth began in the middle of the last century to raise warning signals that all was not well with the future of humanity on Earth. However, the voices of concern, though steadily becoming more insistent over recent decades, remain still on the margins of power in the world today.

Possibility of a New Story

My post-graduate studies, beginning in the 1970s coincided with the emergence of these contrarian voices. As I went about my work as a senior government official engaged in building a provincial system of advanced education, I slowly became increasingly concerned that the mounting evidence of danger to future human prospects was being ignored in the circles where it should have found greatest resonance. I wondered why this was happening and came to the conclusion that the power of the underlying story of growth and development held too firm a hold in the minds of those in power. Was it possible for a new story to take root and find a way to grow? It had happened before in human history, why not again? But the current dominant story is stronger than any preceding it and is deeply lodged in consciousness with millennia of reinforcement.

Nevertheless, by the early years of the 1990s I thought I would try to do what I could. I decided to try to write an alternative story to the one currently holding sway in human thought. I realized that because it was a new story it would have to be written as fiction, but with enough realism to it that it might not easily be discarded as fantasy. So, I wrote it as a novel and called it The Visioneers: A Courage Story about Belief in the Future.

Enter the Visioneers 

I did not try to pretend that my story was completely credible. In fact, I went out of my way to include elements of fantasy and supernaturalism that would clearly indicate that I was not writing about reality as the world understood it at the time. But my intent always was that the story could have enough credibility to it that it would inspire hope in receptive minds that something like this narrative could actually turn out to be real and move humanity off its dangerous trajectory towards breakdown.

The result was predictable. The book coming from an unknown author had a modest success in a limited circle of readers, some of whom moved it by word of mouth to a wider circle. I and my wife, Gerri (who was partnering me in this initiative), took steps to encourage receptive readers to do what they could to improve things in their own circles of influence. We created and published for several years an international newsletter called “The Visioneer” to keep people informed and connected. It was a start, but only a tiny ripple on a vast ocean.

The World Continues on Its Way

The world at large continued down its unsustainable path of continuing expansion of what came to be called its ecological footprint. China and India, with the two largest national populations on the planet, brought the transformative power of industrialization to their people and achieved annual rates of economic growth year after year that dwarfed the performance of older industrial societies. In the process they moved the standard of living of their people towards what had already been achieved in the more developed industrial nations. All this was happening while the scientific voices on the margins warned that it would require 3 to 5 Earth-sized planets to accommodate the growth required for the current world population to live at the standard of consumption of Europe and North America.

Another wave of creative development occurred with the invention of digital technology, which served to accelerate the already unsustainable rate of growth. A worldwide economic recession in the first decade of the new century seemed for a while that it might cause a reset, but such was the power of the economic story embraced by government and industry leaders that economies rebounded and continued to grow.

Another Danger Appears

Throughout these decades of continuing economic expansion, other voices were raised, warning of yet another danger facing humanity: that the increasing domination of the human presence was impacting on the natural world to the extent that it was triggering change in the Earth’s climatic patterns. Chief among the concerns was the rise in carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels as energy that was creating a green-house effect with the potential to raise average world temperature to the extent that many places on Earth would become unfit for human habitation. At the same time, there were related threats of melting icepacks and consequent sea level rise, along with periods of prolonged drought and devastation from extreme weather events.

All of this brings us up to 2020, the start of a new decade of life on Earth under the dominant expansionist story, and, not surprisingly, the outbreak of a pandemic impacting health and well-being across the world and disrupting national economies to an extent never before seen since records have been kept.

What Lies Ahead for Humanity?

The rational expectation for the future is that if humanity does not embrace a different story from the one still in ascendancy, then we will go forward into ever increasing disruption of world civilization in the form of environmental, health and social emergencies and political unrest and revolution.

Faced with this prospect, Gerri and I revisited the story of The Visioneers in 2017, and as we considered it carefully, we concluded that it was speaking more urgently to the conditions of today than to the conditions when it was written almost thirty years ago. This is understandable, because during that time the dominant story triggering the conditions has remained unchanged. So, conditions have become progressively worse in terms of future prospects for current and future generations. 

A Reason for Optimism

However, one other outcome of the past thirty years offers a reason for optimism. Throughout that time, innumerable people and organizations around the world have been taking action into their own hands to improve conditions wherever they find them. These are the Visioneers of my imagination, even though they may never have heard of the story of The Visioneers. 

So, what if we could use the energy of these people to create a viable new story for humanity, using the original story of The Visioneers as a guide.

The Visioneers International Network/Web of Good Work

Encouraged by this line of thinking, we have moved forward to use the connective power of digital technology to create the beginning of a new worldwide movement called the Visioneers International Network. 

Central to the project is the concept of a Virtual Exposition, which can showcase the contributions and achievements of Visioneers around the world. At the same time, a connect platform has been developed to enable all people who feel called to be part of this movement to join and be connected to each other, no matter where they live. They are able to support each other, to be inspired by what others are doing, and to be mentored so that their contributions can spread around the world in a Web of Good Work.

By mid 2020 the Visioneers International Network has reached the stage where a number of outstanding people have been nominated to appear in the Virtual Exposition and they can be brought together virtually in the spirit of the original Visioneers in my 1992 courage story about belief in the future. In that original story, the Visioneers went on to achieve an amazing accomplishment. I called it the Congress of the Global Mind. The name is intended to signify that people can merge their individual consciousness in the vast ocean of universal consciousness to become one great force for enhancing goodness and promoting life-enhancing activity of every kind. What a contrast that is to the current dominant story of individual striving to crush all competition to gain control and domination!

The Congress of the Global Mind

The central idea underlying the Congress of the Global Mind can be simply stated. The conditions in the word today have been created by the collective consciousness of people who for millennia have been following a story of conquest and never-ending expansion grounded in concepts of competition and separation. A new world tomorrow can be created by a new collective consciousness following a story of collaboration, compassion and unity.

For the idea to have power it must be put into operation. In the original story the implementation of the Congress of the Global Mind was crafted in audacious fashion to meet the dramatic purposes of the story. It was spread out over six days as a new creation story and anchored in six communication centres called globcoms situated in iconic sites on five continents. From these globcoms, broadcasts using satellite television were beamed each day to millions of people in every time zone on Earth, building to a dramatic climax of possibility thinking for world transformation. This worked well in a fictional story tinged with an element of fantasy. 

So much for the fictional story. But what about creating something similar in 21st century reality?

There would be a number of important changes. The broadcast satellite technology would be replaced with individualized digital internet technology now available on every personal computer. The sites serving as anchor points would be set up in geographical locations where our Visioneers are currently in operation. The intended outcome would be to mobilize people to work with elected officials to replace policies and practices of old story thinking with policies and practices that enhance prospects for peaceful collaboration locally and globally to achieve the ethos of a global human family where people take care of each other and no one is left behind. 

Planning for Implementation

Planning for such a Congress will take time and creative thinking. We are beginning with the concept of a Round Table of Visioneers spread around the world who can meet as required using virtual technology. The purpose of the Round Table will be to guide the implementation of the Congress. A timeline of two years to October 2022 is envisaged in order to build the momentum required for a successful event. This would also coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of the book, which could give added impetus and meaning.

Between now and then, it will be essential to engage significant parts of the mainstream that are currently upholding the old story to become part of a movement for implementing a new story for the 21st century. Most importantly, this will include the media in all its forms; various levels of government from local to national; the United Nations and other international bodies willing to consider a shift in their policies and practices. The whole enterprise will require funding support from foundations, organizations and individuals who catch the vision and the urgency of implementing it.


The original Visioneers story involved a bold audacious plan to transform the world. The real life Visioneers story that we are now manifesting is equally bold, mostly in the belief and conviction that it can be done. How audacious it is remains to be seen.

What is now certain is that it must be done. Because the alternative of driving ahead at full speed under the impetus of the old story of conquest and never-ending material growth is not sustainable and is morally unacceptable for the future of our children, grandchildren and all those who follow them.