“Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”
– South African Proverb
How we tell our stories matters. Narratives are powerful tools that can inspire us, destroy us, connect us, break us, help us learn, allow us reinvent ourselves, and so much more. Storytelling can help us make sense of seemingly distant and frustratingly complex issues. In other words, storytelling helps us connect as humans. And who tells those stories, and in what ways, matters.
One of my grad school professors would quote this proverb every. single. week. It’s a profound statement that can be applied to many different scenarios. However, hearing this week after week in a global political economy class can induce eye-rolling. But lately, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of human narratives and how this relates to how stories, histories, and narratives from the developing world are relayed to Western (mainly European and North American) audiences.
I think there’s something missing in the way most media outlets report global news in general: that they often omit the (unedited) voices of the people actually living through whatever event or crisis is occurring in a part of the world that seems so far removed from our own realities. The narratives themselves can even serve to create more distance by fostering an us v. them mentality.
Communications for international development can be guilty of falling into the same traps. Not only are these approaches to telling global poverty reduction stories unhelpful, but they can obscure the real issues and dehumanize people.
Things are changing, albeit slowly.
Sometimes I read stories and articles that give me hope, like this one from the Guardian, or this one from the Washington Post. These articles have something in common: they’re told entirely from the perspective of a survivor on the ground. These girls’ stories are different: one is stuck in the Ebola crisis and tells us about how the quarantines are causing a shortage in food (and how the food that is delivered sometimes makes them sick). The other is a Yazidi girl who managed to escape the Islamic State. The typical approach would be to portray these girls as victims. But they don’t describe themselves as such. Instead, they are survivors. They are resilient.
This blog aims to spark a conversation about how we can make these stories better. My vision is to create a platform to help people connect through stories, conversation, and to challenge the assumptions we make about global development, poverty, and justice. It will also feature tips and guides for good communications principles and practice.
I hope you’re as excited as I am about this, and that you’ll join the conversation.