Stories are both universal and individual. They are our mannerisms and our beliefs, our choice of words and our dreams for the future. Most of all, stories shape the way we interact with the world around us and how we define our role in it. We find purpose and belonging through stories—as individuals, communities, and nations.
At times, stories are tools of war: tales of nationalism can be twisted into rallying cries against an enemy across our borders—or in cases like Rwanda, the family next door. And yet, if stories can be used to call a society to arms, then stories can also be used to build cohesion and peace. This special sixth issue of Building Peace is dedicated to the potential of stories in their many forms.
And yet, if stories can be used to call a society to arms, then stories can also be used to build cohesion and peace.
Our authors represent a range of backgrounds and perspectives, but for this issue they come together to examine the nexus of storytelling and peace. Our table of contents reflects a spectrum of storytelling mediums and our articles are relatable and poignant. As the peacebuilding field seeks to expand beyond its traditional boundaries, we sought inspiration from advertisers, filmmakers, policymakers, and activists, inviting their insights on innovative storytelling for peace. The five articles in this issue highlight how stories can usher in peace, and explore why these tales resonate so strongly among the global audiences we aim to reach.
Our authors share a deep understanding and appreciation for how story and narrative contribute to social change processes. Cara Mertes, the director of JustFilms at the Ford Foundation, reflects on film’s role in reexamining the past and revealing new truths about our collective history. Like peace, stories are as much about the process as they are the product. Stories change and evolve with every generation and every new viewer as they find their own meaning in the messages. The act of telling a story and listening can also build empathy and awareness to others’ experiences. As Tramaine Chelan’gat Hugie, formerly of Storycorps, writes, connecting humanity is at the heart of the organization’s mission.
Our authors share a deep understanding and appreciation for how story and narrative contribute to social change processes.
Stories can also be a call to action. For Dave Loew, the Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett, that action is crafted through creative advertising and reaches millions worldwide. Others, like Tara Sonenshine, work to ‘sell’ the benefits of peace to policymakers, urging them to prioritize funding and initiatives that move us closer to a more just society. On the other side of the coin, as Jasmine El-Gamal, a Truman National Security Fellow and a civil servant at the Department of Defense, points out, groups like ISIS similarly
use stories to inspire and catalyze action for their cause.
The articles in this issue definitively convey the transformative power of storytelling, but we also recognize that we have only scratched the surface of what storytelling has to offer. Today, advancements in virtual reality technology and gaming are pushing the boundaries of personal experience and empathy. Since its inception, photography has left an indelible mark on how we see and understand the world around us. And we would be remiss not to mention the vital roles that journalism, literature, and oral traditions all play in telling the stories of the sidelined or voiceless among us.
We are in the midst of a resurgence in storytelling. Technology has granted us the ability to share stories like no other time in our history. We believe that this issue of the magazine captures the excitement surrounding the role of stories in society. We invite you to join us in this storytelling revolution.
(Feature photo credit: “Small Talks” by krishnakumar omanakuttan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))