I believe in the power of story. We’ve all felt it. Turn on the radio in the morning, and you’ll hear the grim statistics–the numbers killed in Iraq. But numbers can’t touch us in the way the personal story can. When NPR covers the life of one particular soldier–interviews the family and friends and teachers–suddenly that soldier is as real to us as our own son or daughter, brother or sister, father or friend. We feel the loss. We feel the pain.
Stories can break through barriers. In a world separated into groups based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, stories can take us out of own small world and into the life of someone else. Story can broaden our perspective, show us that no matter what language is spoken, what religion is followed, we are more alike than we may have believed. The film “Children of Heaven” is a good example. It is a simple story about a little boy who loses his sister’s shoes, and must then share his own with her. The family can’t afford a new pair. But this family is Iranian. We’ve been told that Iran is “evil”. Instead, the story shows us the love of a brother and sister, the desire to protect each other. When it comes to the human condition, we are not so very different. We all feel the pain of separation, the joy of birth, anger, sadness, loss, love, despair.
When we break through barriers, we connect–to another time, another place, another culture. Stories can do that in a way nothing else can. Walking in another’s shoes, during the short time it takes to hear the story, can help us understand. Though we may not always agree, that understanding can help destroy pre-conceived prejudices, relax our judgments.
Too often, the only stories we har are the ones from our own group–from the ones who are like us. Maybe what we need in this time of way is the personal story of an Iraqi soldier, an Iraqi family. Maybe what we need in this time of building fences is the personal story of an illegal Mexican immigrant, trying to care for his family. Maybe, if we could all listen to another’s story, we could build bridges instead of fences; create understanding and acceptance instead of war.
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