Conflicts that persist are fed by stories – stories that endlessly recycle old grievances, inflate differences and inflame passions. Acting as ongoing declarations of war, they are as powerful as rockets or roadblocks in keeping people apart. As long as oppositional communities lack stories of cooperation, no amount of negotiation or appeals to self-interest will work. On the other hand, every true story of common effort, no matter how modest, can grip the imagination of opponents and help them visualize the possibility for a more promising future. These are the stories that NSL seeks to grow, stories that begin modestly and yet can grow, year by year, into resounding declarations for peace.
New Story Leadership says that the future has to be a new story if it is to be truly the future. If it is merely the recycling of the pain, it remains the old story, the pain of the past projected into the future. The fierce urgency of Now, to quote Martin Luther King Jnr, is owning my choice today, the choice that shapes my tomorrow. I can blame my ancestors for their mistakes, but they cannot acquit me of my responsibility now.
What happened yesterday may have brought us to the impasse of today. But there is only one way to change it. To change the past, you have to change the future. That is the core narrative insight.
The future of the Israel and Palestine is being determined by the choices their leaders make today. It is not 1948. It is not 1967. It is not 1993. What does today, 2012 demand of us? If a just and lasting settlement can be found in the Middle East, then the sorry past becomes the prologue. And this present becomes the moment of courage and decision.
Our program is not peddling some miracle cure-but what it demonstrates is that if you can get young people together and give them an intense and unique experience, it becomes the catalyst for a new, shared story. Why we know that is because we have seen it with the young people of Northern Ireland and Ireland and South Africa. We believe that for the Middle East, the primary focus has to shift from the past to the future as a new story. Programs need to find and form the new leadership who will carry that future, who are willing to courageously choose it now, and not wait for anyone else to gift it to them.
Wars create a narrative prison house that consists of interlocking stories that speak only of mutually re-enforcing Victimhood. They are stories that do justice to the pain, the tragic and senseless loss. But a victim story does no justice to the reslience of the human spirit. Nor does it allow for agency and choice. A victim will always wait for the other to change, and though it feels justifiable when the violations have been so egregious, narratively speaking it is a dead end. There is no doorway to the future from there.
New Story Leadership for Northern Ireland, and for South Africa and for the Middle East is about finally giving up the impossible past for the possible future. The irony of that as a story process is that only by giving up the past can you change it. If common sense does not prevail, if the diplomats cannot broker the deals, then there is a fierce evolutionary imperative. If they say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, then equally those who forget to chose the future thereby lose it. Can another generation of young people in the Middle East wait for their elders to sort out their age-old enmities?
New Story Leadership echoes one of the great essays of Martin Luther King when he wrote of ‘Why we can’t Wait’. What King understood was that the most compelling moral obligation we have as human and planetary beings is to the future. “I have a dream” is not some noble sentiment. It is the future demanding its seat at the table now.