Federal Trade Commission Building in Washington, DC.

 

Maybe you’ve been there. You’re enjoying a party, making a little small talk with someone you just met and the topic turns to government. Suddenly your new friend begins spewing a battery of “truths” based on a recent talk show diatribe. “Government’s too big,” she says. “They’re just wasting taxpayer dollars on projects we don’t need.” “And it’s just a place for people to work if they aren’t smart enough to get a job in business.”

You stare at her blankly knowing none of it is true. It’s just an enormous story – a popular myth – a flame that’s been fanned by the punditry.

But what to say in return? (You’re trying not to run to the bar…)

It’s degrading – especially considering the people you know working in government. People like Ellie, with her civil engineering and public policy degrees. She’s smart as a whip, and has plenty of private sector experience, but she chose to come to government because she preferred working for the common good. Government gives her the opportunity to put her training to use cleaning up the environment.

Or what about John, Alicia, Tom, and Amy and their stories about improving education, building infrastructure, or working long hours on tough local and global problems?

You wish that you could wrap all these small stories into one big one that would speak to the heart of government.

This week, I met a colleague in Seattle who’s hoping to put together a large symposium of public sector managers to “tell the bigger story” about what works in government.

Thank goodness.

We need that story – a bigger framing about an institution that’s critical to keeping this country going.

But government isn’t the only institution or cause suffering from the lack of a big story. Look at health care. When was the last time you heard a story that made you feel excited about the future of health care in this country?

Or education? Or mental health? Or transportation or [add your choice here!]

We need big stories backed by lots of smaller stories, that can help us care, feel connected and point to a future we can create together.

We don’t need spin.

Spin is something you stick on like a band-aid to gloss over a bad situation. The big story about government doesn’t try to deny that there’s a ton of work to be done to improve it. But the big story can be positive and credible because it’s built upon thousands of small stories about real people in government and their accomplishments and successes meeting almost undoable challenges.

Here are three key to creating your big story:

It should be real.

It should be inspiring.

It should be something people can feel good about supporting.

Your story should help us care.

There’s a lot that doesn’t work out there. So let’s create some big stories to inspire us to stand up and work together.

I hope my colleague does his symposium about government.

Where would you like to see a bigger story about an issue, institution or cause that you care about?