Stories For Peace
Stories are often relegated to the realm of entertainment. Certainly, in a world focused on measurable outcomes, stories do not share the prestige of the measurable units in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Yet, the world’s most famous scientist, Albert Einstein, is reported to have advised a mother, who wanted her son to be a scientist, to read him “fairy tales … more fairy tales and even more fairy tales” (Zipes). The great scientist recognized that the imagination and creativity are at the core of science is the same that is nurtured by stories.
It is the same at the foundation of our freedom and democracy, as Salman Rushdie brilliantly illustrates in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Storyteller Rashid Khalifa loses his ability to tell stories in response to his son’s question: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” In an allegorical world of language, Rushdie illustrates that language itself is inherently complicated, requiring constant attention and negotiation. Stories can be manipulated, foolishly or dangerously. Yet, stories are fundamental to our very being and to the way we negotiate our lives together.
Stories are essential to how we bring ourselves into existence. Reflecting on the motivation for the novel Things Fall Apart, writer Chinua Achebe spoke of recognizing the absence of the story of himself and his people, a void which he described as a gap, a missing book on a bookshelf. Achebe asserts that fiction can be true in a profound way, resonating with universal experiences even as it tells a particular story.
This week we reflected on the practice of storytelling in the context of peace with Dr. Jessica Senehi of the University of Manitoba (Canada). Storytelling can be an exercise in peace building as it can embody mutual recognition, awareness of self and context, and shared power and creation of knowledge. Dr. Senehi noted that storytelling requires no special skills, level of education or material wealth. It is simply the sharing of a story with someone else about something that happened. We discussed the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival, a festival that celebrates storytelling in various forms and traditions, such as Spoken Word, Indigenous, Metis and French. In its own small embodiment of how stories can build peace, the Rotary Peace Fellows of Class 31, a group of once total strangers, continue to share bits and pieces of our own stories with one another as we try to build positive peace in our work and world.
We all have stories. As individuals, we have stories. As families, we have stories. As communities and nations, we have stories. Some of our stories are shared loudly, some quietly, and some are never told. Our stories connect all of us to ourselves and to one another. They hold what is immeasurable in our current, conflicted world. Our stories hold our humanity and collective wisdom. There isn’t a more hopeful place to look for peace!
Sonia Persaud – Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31