Sunday, October 19, 2014

Peace Making and the Power of Narrative


I write this as a privileged person living in peace.  I have not always completely understood how privileged I am.  As a multiracial 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 dark-eyed friends and family.  For most of my life this was the main privilege for which I was aware.  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 listing reasons that I didn’t think I was privileged, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say, if you don’t think of yourself as privileged, you have lots of company.

Personally, as my awareness of what life is like for other people around the world has grown, I have become 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.  For instance, 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 blockaded.  Imagine living under conditions in which a power outside your territory, which clearly does not care whether you live or die, controls how much drinking water, food, and medical supplies are available.  Imagine that this power has left no avenue for escape and has recently killed over 2,000 of the men, women, and children that are blockaded with you.  Imagine.  

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 you are fenced in, 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.   The stress of living with a colonizing enemy in control of your life must be unbearable. 

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 may make an actual 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 circumstances 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 enduring, fleeing, hiding, or fighting for their lives and their freedom.


Peace Making and the Power of Narrative

Narrative--words, stories, myths, literature, thoughts, histories, rhetoric, doctrines, propaganda, 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, how we react and interact, to the very 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, encouraging, and embracing of justice.  

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.

In exploring our internal narratives, we may find that some of them originate in our own responses to personal experience.  Others may seem completely mysterious, and may leave us wondering why we think the way we do.  While it may be useful to uncover their roots, 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.  Family, 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 births, 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 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 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.   This idea of examining what is presented to us may seem sacrilegious to some, and disrespectful of elders to others.   However, many of our cultures are truly in need of change.  Using our ability to examine our narratives is part of the much needed work that will help us bring about the change we know we need to see.

Narrative, 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, democracy, and freedom are the narratives they embrace.

The narrative of the oppressor is the source of violence.  If we are allied with the oppressors, the aggressors, the resource raiders, the colonizers; it is our own narratives that are causing disparity and encouraging and allowing violence in the world.  If we are simply an unconscious First Nation consumer; it is the narratives that we are surrounded by, and that we have internalized, which allow us to be blind to the suffering our consumption and privilege causes other human beings.

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 source of violence is in the personal and cultural narratives of the perpetrators.  

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 ourselves.  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 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.

Harvest McCampbell


For more thoughts on Peace Making please see our post Imagine Peace.

You can also find a number of other posts addressing Peace Making and Imagining Peace here:

Boycott for Peace!  Check out our compete Boycott List.  

We also have a few facebook memes that addresses Peace Making.  You can find them here:


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Boycott for Peace!


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  1. "Ronnie Barkan: I am a white, male, privileged, Israeli Jew. The first two characteristics are decided by nature, the last are decided by the state. It is important to mention that I am from the privileged. This is the core we are talking about.

    "The State of Israel was founded on the basis of ethnic cleansing, ethnic separation and ethnic supremacy which was codified into law. What started in ‘48 carried on under the guise of the law, to take away the rights of the others."

    Highlight and then right click the URL to open the article. Very much worth reading!

  2. " . . . there were two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving."

    Terry Pratchett, 'Dodger,' fiction.


    . . . speaking of right and wrong.