Stats can be sexy, but stories can save lives.
Our recent tremblor here in LA reminded me about this beautiful story that ran on the op-ed page of the LA Times on the anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan.
Written by a professor of engineering, he describes how technology was overwhelmed by the quake’s magnitude, but a thousand-year-old story survived to save lives.
Stats are so sexy. They make great sound bites because they capture your attention. We love them even more in an infographic. That’s why we often go straight to the Snapshot in USA Today.
But by dinnertime, you and every other reader has forgotten the exact number, although you may remember the topic. A week from now, you don’t recall that fascinating Snapshot at all.
And yet, I’m certain you can tell me a story you first heard in childhood.
Everyone in the fishing village of Murohama knew the story of the tsunami that struck 1,000 years ago. The story of the villagers that ran to the top of the nearest hill, only to be drowned when a wave washed up the back side.
So when the massive quake hit in 2011, the villagers didn’t run to the top of the nearest hill. Instead, they ran to the top of a hill that was a bit farther away. As they stood and watched, the hill closest to the village was once again overcome with a wave up the back side.
If it were not for the thousand-year-old story, they would all have perished.
So often when it comes to public information and safety, we find ourselves buried in alarming stats. But nothing trumps a good story, especially when lives are at stake.