NUMBER 554 • 23 JULY • TELLING OUR STORIES
The most effective way to communicate the impact of discrimination is through the sharing of personal stories. When a person is afforded the opportunity to give voice to the experience of injury, the tale commands the group’s attention and the stories are always compelling. Often, the listener is stirred to recall parallel experiences, which provide a strong identification with the storyteller. The purpose of personal storytelling is not to reduce tough intergroup issues; however, one of the most effective ways to communicate a universal principle is to present the issue in human terms.
Several participants get the chance to share their experience of past treatment. This often becomes the turning point of the day because people begin to warm to each other as their humanity is unlocked by what they hear. Maryam, a 15-year-old young woman, recounted times when she had been hurt because she is shy. Many in the group were visibly moved as they listened, and as soon as the session had finished several of her classmate including two who regularly picked on her, started for the first time to relate to her in a friendly and interested way.
Primary-level children are equally responsive, even though at first they might interpret ‘past hurts’ to be more physical than emotional. It takes a while before they may be ready to move on from recalling broken limb and stitched heads to talking about the ongoing effect of being targeted for names, race or what they look like. But when they do, itbecomes an unforgettable experience for everyone. Staff are also spellbound and are often surprised we can hold the children’s attention for each other for so long. Effective communication occurs because each member has a chance to speak and to listen.
Often itis impossible to listen to the painful experiences of others unless one is also afforded the opportunity to express one’s own painful experiences. A climate is created that allows every participant to convey important information, and so there is a mutual investment in listening well. By Listening to each other, groups come to the understanding that their experiences are more similar than they are different, therefore they are willing to work on behalf of each other:
. He sat down and then listened to Daren, who has a speech impediment, tell his equally moving story of how he gets mistreated because he has a physical difference. When people were appreciating Daren, Leroy stood up and shakily said, ‘I’m one of the people who calls you names, and I won’t let anyone else.’
Leroy had been taunting other youngsters. His Dad, a single parent unable to afford the expensive trainers which many of his friends wear, and other youngsters were taunting him. He told his story cried a bit, others did too, and they gave positive feedback for his courage telling it
This part of the workshop programme opens doors to many strong and lasting alliances.
Carpenter, V. (1998) Ending bullying and managing conflict in schools. In Yvonne Joan Craig, Advocacy, Counselling and Mediation in Casework. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers pp 92-93