Over and over I keep hearing the word “narrative”. Most often it is spoken by people who insist on the importance of understanding and respecting the “Palestinian narrative.”
How many people have actually paused to consider what “narrative” means? More importantly, how should we respond to a narrative that is not our own?
As a storyteller, a marketer, narrative is something I am very familiar with, something I deal with every day. The narrative is critical, it is a driving motivator, it is what convinces people to “swallow the bait”, to buy whatever it is that you are selling.
The thing is that “narrative” is just that – the story you tell. There is a perspective, a narrative and then there are facts. These words are not synonyms. Each is important and none should be confused with the other.
Perspective is an individual point of view, the way a person sees the world.
Is your glass half full or is it half empty? Is an event positive or negative? These are decided by personal perspective.
The way an individual is raised and the culture he or she is immersed in, effects their perspective but does not control it. Often the individual will automatically conform to the reigning attitudes of society, but not always. If I am raised in a strictly mannered culture it is most likely that I will adopt the social norms and mores as my own however, my individual perspective might see the strictness as oppressive and stupid, leading me to rebel and be different. This is what led the invention of the bra, to women wearing pants and many other sudden deviations in the way things were always done – one person saw things differently, behaved accordingly and in response others changed their perspective as well.
Narrative is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our place in the world.
Every individual has a story he or she tells themselves about themselves and the life they are living. Nations also have a narrative, a story that is collectively used to define that people or state. Narrative on both the individual and national levels shapes the way you feel about yourself and, subsequently, the way you are treated by others.
Facts are well… facts.
We may be living in a “post-factual” world but that doesn’t mean that facts have ceased to exist. It is true that history books are written by the winners and good vs bad are often a matter of perspective (or in the case of nations, narrative), however, even if these things are true, there are still undeniable, provable, facts. People can dispute facts all they want but cannot make them go away without lying or turning the argument in to something that has no relation to facts (emotion based arguments).
Your perspective does not influence where or when the sun rises and sets. Perspective cannot make water cease to be wet or fire cease to be hot. Perspective may determine a war to be a triumph or a tragedy but there is no arguing when it happened or who emerged victorious.
What do they teach in school these days?
I recently had a conversation with a history teacher who teaches Zionism in a prominent Israeli school. Disturbingly she seemed unable to differentiate between perspective (the individual point of view), narrative (on the national level) and facts.
It is popular to focus on understanding the “other”. In Israel, this always seems to mean teaching Jews to understand the Arab narrative (“We are victims, you victimized us”). Somehow teaching Arabs to understand the Jewish narrative never seems to come up.
The rationale is: “If we (the Jews) don’t understand the perspective of the other (the Arabs), how can we have a discussion with them?”
And I agree with that.
Being familiar with the story of the “other” facilitates effective discussion. Understanding that this story motivates behavior is critical. At the same time, understanding that someone thinks a certain way and behaves according to the way they were raised is very different from accepting their behavior or accepting their narrative.
Narrative is a story, it is not facts.
I might feel like a princess. My guy can call me a princess all day but that doesn’t mean I have a kingdom to rule over (unless we are calling my kitchen a kingdom). A person or a nation can say that I or my people victimized them all day but that doesn’t make it true.
One can dispute whether or not certain policies are appropriate or not. Certainly, many of Israel’s policies towards our Arab citizens and Arab neighbors are hotly disputed. At the same time, there are facts that are undisputable (unless the arguments are based on lies and utter disregard for facts):