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Peace Making and the Power of Narrative
Exploring how personal and cultural thinking and storytelling effects the Peacemaking process.
I write this as a privileged person living in peace. I have not always completely understood how privileged I am. As a multi-racial person, I’ve always been aware of the privilege and invisibility that my light skin and eyes have afforded me, as contrasted with my dark skinned and eyed friends and family. For most of my life this was the main privilege I have, that I was aware of. I am not wealthy, I am not from wealthy people, and in fact I am disabled and my income has often hovered right around the poverty level. I suffer from multi-generational PTSD as most of the descendants of Indigenous people do. I could go on, but I won’t. Besides my coloring the only other sorts of privilege I have been sporadically aware of, until recently, included my intelligence and hard won skills, and the lovely grace and teaching of my grandmother.
As my awareness of what life is like for other people in the world has ebbed and flowed, I have at times been aware that living in the US confers all kinds of privileges that living in any third world country does not. This awareness has been growing in my consciousness lately. I have a disorder, and there are many things I cannot eat without them making me very ill. As a First World citizen, even one whose income hovers around the poverty level, I am able to make choices about what I eat. Choices that many people in the world do not have. For many people, just having something to eat every day, anything at all, is a challenge.
My awareness has continued to grow. For the last few weeks, I have let into my consciousness more and more, the reality of what life is like in Gaza. I now realize just how very privileged I am. How very privileged all of us in First World countries are. How very privileged all of us are, who are not being bombed and blockaded.
I want to talk to you about Peace Making and the Power of Narrative, from one privileged person to another. I want us to not forget that we are privileged. And it is only because we are privileged that we can have this conversation. When fully armed enemy military personnel are stalking your streets and bombs are falling on your homes, you do not have the privilege to talk intellectually about peace. When you are fenced in, and blockaded, when your ability to work or farm or obtain the very necessities of life are beyond your control, you do not have the privilege to talk intellectually about peace. Simply surviving, the safety of your family, procuring food, medicine, water, and trying to maintain some sanitation--those are your main concerns.
Flight or fight—we all know the body’s and the mind’s biological response to stress. However, most of us have not lived in the day to day situation where the demands of those stress hormones and our responses to them make a difference between whether we live or die. We are so very privileged. And, as such, we have absolutely no right to judge anyone that lives in circumstance that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
So, as one privileged person to another, I want to talk to you about Peace Making and the Power of Narrative. If I have jarred you out of your unconscious state of privilege, take a deep breath, and settle back in. Because what I have to say here will make no sense at all to the people fleeing, hiding, and fighting for their lives.
Peace Making and the Power of Narrative
Narrative--words, stories, myths, thoughts, histories, rhetoric, doctrines, and codes of law--form the very basis of how we view ourselves and others; and they shape everything about us from our health, our experiences, our interactions, to the paths of our lives.
The narratives that influence us include our own very personal and private thoughts which develop into reoccurring themes in our minds. They may be excuses for our own behavior, self fulfilling predictions, assumptions about others, and systems of blame that enable us to ignore our own culpability; on the other hand, these thoughts and themes can also be very positive, life affirming, and encouraging.
Private narratives have power over our choices and decisions, our attitudes and reactions, and thus, they have great power to shape our lives and our experience. Paying attention to the reoccurring narrative themes in our own thoughts is a worthy endeavor. We can pluck them from our very minds, consciously examine them, and decide if they are useful to us or if they may be harming us and our ability to create Peace.
Some of our personal narratives originate in responses to personal experience. And while it may be useful to uncover why we have the internal narrative themes that we do, if they are entirely personal, and if they are not reinforced by trauma, knowing their origin is not always necessary for us to change the ones which do not serve us and which do not serve our ability to make Peace.
Many of our internal narratives are not, however, founded in our own experience. Cultural and religious storytelling has provided source material for personal narrative themes from the moment humanity came into being. We are exposed to and surrounded by these externally repeated themes, from the instant of our birth, if not before. Many of these themes took form in our ancient past, and over the millennia they have been shaped for good or ill, by those who wished to inspire us as well as by those who wished to manipulate us.
Now, in the modern world, the narrative themes we are surrounded by are very much influenced and controlled by the media. Modern media is by and large owned by corporate interests, and its purpose is to extract profit from the masses. The messages that come to us from our mainstream media are often untrue, they are commonly censored and biased, and they are seldom have our best interests or the interests of Peacemaking in mind.
The narratives that we are surrounded by are designed to influence us—whether they come from our cultures, our religions, or our media. Paying attention to the reoccurring narrative themes we are surrounded by is a worthy endeavor. We can pluck them from our environments, consciously examine them, and decide if they are useful to us or if they may be harming us and our ability to create Peace.
Narratives, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we are told and that we repeat—aloud and in our thoughts, are the basic source materials for whether we feel we are entitled to use violence to take what we want from other human beings or whether we work for Peace.
The capacity for violence and for Peacemaking is intrinsic in all of us. The only difference between people who practice violence, aggression, oppression, imperialism, and colonization and those who practice and advocate for Peacemaking, respect, parity, equality, justice, democracy, and freedom are the narratives they embrace. We each have the power to change our personal narratives and to participate in the change of familial, cultural, and religious narratives. We not only can be the change, if we want Peace, we must be the change.
The narrative of the oppressor is the source of violence. If we are the oppressor, the aggressor, the resource raider, the colonizer; it is our own narratives that are causing disparity and encouraging and allow violence in the world. If we are simply an unconscious First Nation consumer; the very narratives that we are sounded by and that we have internalize which allow us to be blind to the suffering our consumption and privilege causes.
We must remember this. The source of violence is not skin color, or religion, or national origin, political affiliation, or even the socio-economic situation a person is born into. The sources of violence are found in the narratives.
As Peacemakers, we must find ways to reach through these narratives to find the heart and soul and humanity which does indeed hide beneath them. This work begins with our selves. We need to find the heart and soul of our own humanity, which lies beneath the stories that we may tell ourselves. The stories that say that war in distant lands is not our problem. The stories that, somehow, claim we have a right to defend elite resource extraction at the expense of Indigenous people and the poor. The stories that support our ability to purchase myriad products without ever wondering about the pay or working conditions of the people who produced them, or how the hegemony over the lands where they are produced came to be. And once we have opened up our own narratives so we can find our hearts and souls, we can begin to educate others.
The path of the Peace maker, I believe, requires that we understand the power of narrative. And that we begin to teach others about this also. Because if we mistake the capacity for violence, the capacity for evil, as residing in anything other than the narrative, we may delude ourselves into thinking that Peace or safety can be accomplished with violence. This is the mistake humanity has been making for thousands of years. The mistake is that we assume the capacity for evil lies in something other than the narrative and that we can eliminate evil with violence targeted towards where ever it is we assume the evil lies. And in attempting to eliminate evil with violence we develop violent narratives that allow us to perpetrate evil on others. In today’s world, this is a mistake that the corporations and munitions manufacturers promote and profit from and that our media and our governments (which are both controlled by the corporations) also promote.
We must resist. The world they would create for us is not a world any of us want to live in. We must resist. We must question the narratives we are surrounded by as well as the ones we repeat in our own minds. We must not only question our own the narratives, but we must engage in conversations that question all narratives and that expand our compassion to include all humanity.
I challenge you, now, to question your privilege; to ferret out the narratives in your cultures and your religions and your economies that allow you, that allow us as privileged people, to remain ignorant of the fact that our privilege rests on the suffering of others. We must question our narratives, we must expand the conversation. The world will not have Peace until we do. It is up to each of us. It is up to me, and it is up to you.
Visit the Boycott for Peace group on facebook to learn how you can support the Peace process with your spending dollars and your thinking process!