Storytelling’s potential for social transformation

Storytelling consists of language, narrative and dialogue. As language, it encodes the culture of a particular community, including a shared understanding of identity, power, history, values and utopian visions. As a narrative, it can serve as the rationale for action, because it encodes knowledge that everyone in the group buys into and therefore holds narrative potency. And as dialogue, it is a direct interpersonal interaction and can generate and sustain person-to-person relationships (Senehi 2002). As such, public speaking events (PSE) hold the power to raise awareness, change attitudes and initiate socio-transformative processes.

Senehi (2002) illustrates two ways in which storytelling can be significant in conflict resolution, peacemaking and peacebuilding. First, storytelling invites a paradigm shift - it catalyzes transformation - and second, it is accessible both technically and intellectually to the listener, something unusual when hearing from the "other.” Bar-On and Kassem (2004) found that storytelling among Palestinian and Jewish students contributed to their ability to listen to one another and to construct a more complex image of the other than usually conveyed by the media. As a method to communicate personal truth, storytelling encourages social healing and reconciliation by promoting individual responsibility over general group blaming and collective assignment of guilt. When the truths of past crimes are exposed, individuals - not entire ethnic, religious or cultural groups - are exonerated from guilt (Mendelof 2004). Therefore, as Halpern and Weinstein (2004) note, the storytelling process helps to individualize members of opposing groups and challenges dehumanization of their behavior and nature. Storytelling can help individuals and groups to learn, experience and acknowledge that both groups are victims of the conflict and have experienced loss, albeit uniquely (Justad 2006).

Trauma healing workshops as potential for personal transformation

In 2010, CRS and Caritas BiH published an open call for individuals who suffered during the war to participate in the CPT project and attend a series of psychosocial workshops and seminars aimed at helping them overcome war trauma and grievance by providing a safe space and supportive environment to tell their war and postwar accounts. Over 200 individuals who had traumatic war experiences, mainly members of victims’ associations from 38 municipalities across BiH. applied to attend and 52 actively participated in the CPT project from its beginning to its end. The war survivors were of different ethnic, religious, gender and geographical backgrounds, similarly representative of the general population.

The tailored program consisted of a series of psychosocial workshops and seminars (e.g„ nonviolent communication, trauma and forgiveness), aiming to

Remembering side by side 109 address personal trauma, build self-confidence and improve interethnic relationships among participants (Hart and Colo 2014). The program offered psychosocial workshops and seminars for more than a year and half, providing over 200 hours of trauma healing and capacity-building sessions for participants. Follow-up psycho-support sessions were offered to those who decided to speak publicly about their war experiences.

During the first year-and-a-half of the CPT project, I observed individual cognitive change as part of a process with different phases. The first phase is linked to beneficiaries' motives to be part of the reconciliation process. While in this phase, individuals are primarily connecting with their deep need to resolve personal trauma, as well as developing a curiosity about the experiences of others. During the second phase, individuals engage empathy, initiated through a safe space for storytelling and listening, as well as discussion about the past. During the third phase, the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator becomes clearer, regardless of ethnic background, and the idea of exemption from collective guilt is accepted. After humanizing the "other side" with similar war experiences and separating their personal from collective identities, positive personal change and joint activities become possible. This progress emerges from constructive discussion in a safe space and leads individuals into a fourth phase of activism in their transformational journey (Hart and Colo 2014).

Prior to the second phase, 29 percent of beneficiaries decided to drop out of the project. The participants who dropped out were either in need of greater psychosocial support (e.g., persons with little or no previous therapeutic work to address their trauma), or they had been motivated to participate in the workshop by different things, such as material and economic gain. Further, some had an entrenched attitude that reconciliation was impossible or a strong connection with nationalistic politics (Hart and Colo 2014)?

Of those who continued to participate in the trainings and seminars (N=52), 71 percent indicated improved capacity to address personal trauma, while 64 percent indicated readiness to reach out to others affected by trauma (Catholic Relief Services 2014). Workshops helped participants a great deal in learning how to communicate and how to deal with their pain. Regardless of their ethnicity, participants found a common experience in the pain and suffering they had gone through, and the fact that they can help themselves and others with similar issues. This therapeutic experience helped survivors to develop a group identity of those who suffered heavily and overcame personal traumas (Bosankic, Mesic and Sosic 2012). They revised previous positions and internalized new identities and partnered to create space for peer support. Kelman finds that identity "negotiation" is essential to reconciliation: "each party (must) revise its own identity just enough to accommodate the identity of the other" (Kelman 2004, 119; Funk 2013). These new attitudes and more positive perspectives about self and others helped participants to find closure and develop an ability to look ahead and rebuild new positive identities (Bosankic, Mesic and Sosic 2012).

On many occasions, I observed participants in these groups encourage each other to view themselves no longer as victims but as survivors. Regardless oftheir ethnic and religious backgrounds, they developed friendships, helped each other find jobs, collected money to support those with less, found strength within each other and jointly visited places which they previously considered triggers for their traumatic experience. In 2013, one Croat participant and former war camp prisoner decided to engage with his trauma even more deeply by walking around Mostar's east (“Bosniak”) side with his fellow participants (a Bosniak and a Serb) for the first time in 20 years after a public speaking event held near the city.5 According to him, their support was crucial, as he considered them the only two people who could understand his feelings and actions truly and completely.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >