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Noa Baum: Peace-making Through Storytelling

February 6, 2018

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She started her presentation, of course, with a story – about a park here in the US where she met a young woman with a baby – the same age as her son. The young woman was a Palestinian; storyteller Noa Baum is, as she said, “a proud Israeli Jew”. Over a period of seven years, they became friends… they never talked about their former homes – “mostly Mom stuff”, said Noa, smiling.

Then, one day, Noa was putting together a story about her childhood during the Six Days War in Jerusalem. Her friend, Jumana, had lived in Jerusalem, too… and she wondered what HER experience had been like.

Thus began a process – sometimes painful but also powerful – whereby Noa examined her own world view by carefully listening to another radically different view – through story. And through this process, she realized that storytelling could be a tool for peace-making – not just between Israeli and Palestinian, but in any situation in which people have diametrically opposed views and beliefs.

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She talked about the need we all have for affirmation; the need to feel that we are good people. She acknowledged the strong impulse in everyone to stick with their own tribe, the difficulties of being with those who are ‘different’, and our inclination to stereotype them; shut them out.

But – what if we could approach those others by simply sharing stories together – just as she and Jumana did. Recent scientific studies have concluded that when two humans sit down together, face to face, and share life experiences – something happens. First, there is an emotional connection; then a shift in cognitive thinking – because story allows us to “imagine” what it would be like to be that person – without surrendering our own beliefs. And eventually this process (and here, the process is more important than the story) can – if we stick with it – lead to compassion and an increased ability to deal with paradox; to accept the real complexities of the world all around us.

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As I listened to Noa’s words, I thought about similar experiences in my own storytelling: bringing elders and young people together as “Story Buddies”; helping families bring two and three generations together at reunions through story; and using story to help teens and parents see one another in a new way. But the challenges in our highly polarized world are so great. Could I somehow use story as a tool in this terribly difficult environment? I honestly don’t know…but it’s something worth thinking about.

Note: The full text of this presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vsg7VTUjYLI&t=5s.

I guarantee – an absorbing and thought-provoking experience.

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