Can a storyteller ever truly convey the full story?

By Sarah Squires, Communications Officer, Generations for Peace

A story is a chain of events whose components consist of a beginning, middle and an end – this much is clear. But how we choose to shape the details within is entirely up to us. The inclusion or omission of those finer points results in a perspective, an understanding, but not a conclusion. Storytelling is the fundamental way we as humans process, store and convey messages and meanings. It requires flexibility and a willingness to adapt. Storytelling is both unique and powerful, but above all, it is personal.

Our aim at Generations For Peace is to ensure our audience is not detached from the harsh realities faced, but remains fully engaged. Carefully crafted stories allow us to evoke a great emotional connection through the exploration of a breadth of memories and experiences. Yet it should be appreciated that granting a broad outlook does add a degree of complexity: we must first commit to the story we wish to tell, and more importantly, we should be patient.

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Click on the photo to hear this student’s story

As a peace-building and conflict transformation organisation, Generations For Peace often faces difficulties in storytelling. Each person’s recollections and truths differ; our job is not to decide which take precedence but rather to ensure as many as possible are heard. We aim to provide a background rooted in collective and documented knowledge that navigates the complexities of our field, from which we then sensitively place the varying narratives within.

But sometimes our efforts must contend with a hostile landscape – it is unavoidable. The delicate nature of this field is volatile at times, which is why the work our volunteers carry out every day is of utmost importance. It is incredibly inspiring to witness the impact an individual can achieve in their community. Venturing into the unknown often paves the path for others to follow. It requires one person to take the first step, but it is arguably the hardest one of all.

And storytelling is no different.

The brave person who steps forward to share their memories and experiences deserves respect. It is our responsibility to ensure their words are not manipulated nor taken out of context; trust is difficult to forge and easy to lose. So before we turn the crisp pages of our awaiting notepads, or begin to review the storyboard for the day ahead, we must remind ourselves that the person in front of us is not just an interviewee, but rather somebody who is willing to divulge details of their lives that they are not required to.

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Pre-interview with a student in Harare, Zimbabwe

Many are prepared to share their stories, others not so. At times their nervousness is evident: fidgeting hands, wide eyes, an avoiding gaze, and a solemn silence – we are strangers to the very people we hope will disclose their stories. But the key is to keep moving forward. Forging emotional ties and connections on the field is no easy feat, so we read the signs and tread carefully.

Our main role is to listen and observe, skillfully weaving selected memories together to convey to those we reach out to. Collected fragments of feelings felt at that precise moment are shaped by immeasurable factors. It is our duty to contextualise those words with fairness and integrity.

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To that end, how do you ask someone to recall events so dark and painful – suppressed memories that continue to haunt lives? How do you ask a person how they feel today, knowing that memories buried on a superficial level remain simmering close to the surface? How do you ask them? There is no easy answer, at times you cannot. Indeed, you may find you only leave with the first chapter in hand, but when woven together with intricate detail, over time these stories will reveal lives that are deeply entwined, yet wholly independent from one another.

There is no one single story we strive to share at Generations For Peace – there are many. Instead, we honour each storyteller’s treasured gift of perspective with sensitivity and build on it respectfully.

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One Comment on “Can a storyteller ever truly convey the full story?

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