How a gorilla's narrative changed my life

In 2008 my wife and I traveled to East Africa. We were lucky enough to visit the gorillas in Rwanda. It was a profound and moving experience and a great example for how narratives can be communicated even without the use of words.

Seeing a gorilla for the first time in the flesh

We had been hiking for hours through a thick, humid jungle. Stinging nettles as high as an NBA basketball player. Bamboo so thick we had to squeeze through it. We were taking a break at the end of our climb, enjoying a leisurely pace and keeping an eye out for some of our nearest cousins.

Then we saw him. Looking up into the jungle canopy as if in thought. Framed by vines and set against the backdrop of a soft mist. My first gorilla.

My life changed in that moment. The course of it had been abruptly jolted and knocked off the rails. In an instant my perspective on the world had expanded, my priorities found themselves re-jigging and I was lost in an emotion I had never felt before. I can only describe it as humbled-awe

I'd never expected seeing a wild animal to have such an effect. They are so much like us. Their movement and mannerisms feels so familiar. He was the first of many. We saw adults, babies, pregnant mothers and every role in between.

Overlapping narratives

The similarities got me thinking about evolution and the bifurcation of genetics. Next to chimpanzees the creatures I was surrounded by are our most closely related. Go back far enough and there is a common ancestor who birthed two beings that would subsequently go on to evolve into the separate family trees.

Clearly we have many differences but the fact that the similarities were so abundant was deeply moving. Seeing a baby clutch it's mothers back, a silverback tear up the undergrowth, or juvenile males fight so close to me they bumped into me.

We were exposed to love, fear, anger, playfulness and much more. We were able to understand, to a degree, beyond the limits of language.

Even without words I was able to gain a sense for characters, wants, needs and conflict. The heart of stories told in a narrative of movement, animalistic sounds and behavior.

A changed course

The narratives I was exposed to by our cousins in the jungle changed how I felt about my place in the world, and about the world itself. It inspired me to act differently. Since then just a few of the changes have been things such as prioritizing the moment more effectively, caring more for the environment and a deeper respect for the other beings we share it with.

A friend once said of how I described the experience as similar to how he felt his life was changed when he had children.

Narratives can fuel and affect experiences. Experiences have a narrative and people will share that narrative ()good or bad) with others. They have the ability to change people's minds and behavior.

How are you thinking about the narratives in your life and business? Discuss in the comments!

More photos from Rwanda & the Congo here