out west

Last week I travelled to…wait for it… the glamorous city of Bristol to speak at a uni event about stories, and especially stories about injustice.  There is an irony here.  When I was at uni I would not have gone to such a talk. I thought injustice was bad and that it was important to care about it. I just had other fish to fry.

(It took a while to realise that I didn’t need to watch my frying pan 24/7, and maybe there were other important things to cook…have I exhausted the metaphor?)

The lovely guy who organised the event has big concerns about how those stories are told (or not told) in the media, and so I was introduced as visiting “world-traveller” to reflect on the stories I’ve found, and why we need to tell a different kind of story.

Now “the media” is an enormous, sprawling monster of a thing that you clearly can’t generalise about, but my main reflection at the moment is that the headlines that reach us bring us to a point of crisis (or try to) but don’t show us where to go with it. Here are some refugees dying of hunger. This is shocking, this is terrible. What do I do? There’s usually no answer (just a weather forecast) or a plea to give money.  Money helps, but it doesn’t solve big, complex problems.  And it can mean we are still very removed from the actual problems, sensing very little connection to whatever is going wrong, still safe in our western existence.

Not that I’m recommending the total other end of the spectrum where we all jump into a lorry full of supplies and head off to the location of the crisis. I don’t think that helps in the long run.

So what I talked about was the importance of stories that show a way through: Stories of people responding with courage, resilience, optimism, compassion, intelligence.  They are often small stories, but there are a lot of them and they don’t grab many headlines. I sometimes think of them as tiny, beautiful chipped fragments of a mosaic. On their own they’re incomplete and small, but when you start to lay them out alongside one another something brilliant emerges.   And that bigger mosaic can have an effect on us, like I argued at the start of this blog. The more good stories I hear the more likely I am to respond with imagination and hope to the problems in my neighbourhood, and the more I want to be part of the bigger picture of good stuff happenig.

I also think it matters that we’re connected.  Not least because it’s easy to get discouraged by the scale of the horror in the world. Yes, we are all “connected” by the reality that our clothes and food and gadgets and tv shows were made in different corners of the globe, and the internet gives us access to more knowledge than anyone can get their around, but the way all of that is set up is largely impersonal.  Moreover it’s mediated by the powerful who maybe have a vested interest in making us see the world they want. I think it matters that we have personal connections to real people and complex, ongoing stories. (This is one of the reasons I get on planes when I hate airports and being away from my husband).  I think we need to believe that we’re part of a bigger picture, a bigger story that is going in a good direction.

So, returning to Bristol, if you’re interested to hear about the project I was speaking at, they have a facebook page “Our World View – a perspective shift on social injustice”.  And the best stories I’ve heard coming out of Bristol recently are from these guys.