In a Facebook group for Tesla fans, somebody posted an image of a pickup truck with a sign that said: “I identify as a Tesla” on the back. A firestorm of polar opinions rapidly followed. Half of the people found it deeply offensive and a sign of disrespect and intolerance. They proceeded to shred the imagined character of the vehicle’s unknown owner. The other half thought it was funny, bringing together issues about climate change, political correctness, and the lunacy of Tesla’s brand fanatics. The first group then accused the second of being naïve and insensitive, while the second saw snowflakes with their panties in a wad.
The conversation gained charge faster than rolling down a mountain with regenerative braking.
The illusion here is that people were responding to the sign on the truck. Instead, participants were reacting to their own stories about what the words meant to them. For example,
- The sign is about gender identity.
The owner is challenging people who identify as genders not assigned at birth.
The owner is insensitive.
- The sign is about climate change.
The owner does not believe climate change is real.
The owner denies science and is stupid.
- The sign is about political correctness.
The owner is making a statement about the absurdity of being P.C.
The owner believes in freedom and the 1st amendment.
- The sign is about the environment.
The owner acknowledges the necessity of Green technology but cannot (yet) haul big loads to a job site without a pickup.
The owner has a good heart and aspires to do more for the environment.
- The sign is about money and class.
The owner is tired of the wealthy looking down at blue-collar workers who are the backbone of our country.
The owner is proud of their accomplishments and does not care what you think.
While people argued over what the image meant, nobody noticed that the argument was about stories rather than facts. In its barest form, there was a truck on the road with a sign on the back. Everything after that was about competing stories of meaning.
Nor were many people trying to understand other’s perspectives. Instead, both sides declared their views with ever-stronger language while asserting that the other was wrong. The surprise was how that behavior emerged from a traditionally well-mannered group that was usually respectful of differences. Something in the image touched a nerve that either brought out the worst in people or invited the worst of people to show up with greater visibility.
After a few hours, the post had over 200 comments, and the author took it down rather than allowing the conversation to continue. I can only imagine the comments the author received directly.
I wonder how different it would have turned out if participants could have engaged with curiosity and exploration rather than degrading into a battle of which story was correct.
When people see your company, brand, or website, they tell themselves a story about what it means. This happens almost instantly.
If you’d like your business to invite customers into a better story — one where they are the hero and you are their guide to success — then let’s have a conversation.