When I attended the launch of the Rwandan Dream NI recently I was once again struck by the power of stories in building peace and reconciliation in countries that have suffered terrible conflict.
To be human is to tell stories. Since the beginnings of human civilization people sat down in a circle around a fire and told each other stories. And the stories they told defined who they were, their vision of the future, what they believed, what was right and what was wrong.
I recently led a storytelling workshop with international students in Germany. We explored the role of stories in starting wars and building peace. It was remarkable to hear young people people from Syria, Bosnia, Nigeria and Iran describe the ancient storytelling tradition in their own culture and to hear how today’s generation around the world is using digital media to share their stories. The students shared their own compelling stories of hope and peace and reconciliation based on their personal experiences of conflict.
However we can also share powerful stories that radicalize, that spread fear and mistrust and hatred of the other. We know all about it in Northern Ireland and we’ve also seen the devastating impact of hate filled stories around the world. As Voltaire wrote ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.’
For many years I facilitated conflict resolution workshops in different countries as part of my personal commitment to creating a more peaceful and less violent world. However, five years ago I sat down and wrote my own personal story, ‘Paperboy’, about being a 12-year-old boy, growing up in West Belfast in the 1970s trying to come to terms with the Troubles. Today that story of a child’s experience of the futility of war has probably influenced more people in more places than all of my conflict resolution workshops. So now I am personally more convinced than ever of the power of story to make a difference.
There’s a Native American saying that ’It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story’.
I believe we can create a web of powerful positive stories on a massive scale to change the accepted narrative in this world from hatred to compassion, from ignorance to understanding and from war to peace. That’s the power of stories.
Tony Macaulay is a writer, broadcaster, management consultant and peacebuilder. His memoirs of growing up in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s, ‘Paperboy’, ‘Breadboy’ and ‘All Growed Up’ have become critically acclaimed bestsellers.