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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Hero Within: The Syrian Crisis and Stories of Ours

Facts tell - stories sell.

Images have the power to move us in way words on a page do not.

When you put these two things together, we return to the ancient, pan-human tradition of oral story-telling.  

Story-telling has the power to create images, stir emotions and above all, build a bond of human recognition between story teller and audience.  It's powerful stuff.

I've been thinking about the Syrian refugee crisis.  I'm sure many of you have as well.  I've been thinking less about blame - who can be the culprit, who we can collectively chain our unease, anger and guilt to and throw overboard.  Righteous indignation and the resulting cognitive dissonance are just so tiring - I don't have the energy.  Besides, pointing fingers doesn't solve anything.  The question must be - and so far, isn't - what can we do to save the next Aylan Kurdi from dying needlessly?

There are all kinds of logical arguments to be made about how New Canadians have consistently bolstered the Canadian economy, or about how dead kids like Aylan Kurdi could have grown up to be the next Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk.  These are facts and potentialities, though - not stories.  

It's stories that sell.  Personal stories have power that facts and theories don't.


Missing/Murdered Indigenous Women.  Racialized youth blamed not only for the colour of their skin and the place of their birth, but their inability to circumvent an entire system that marginalizes them to find success.  New Canadians who find themselves living in squalid, sub-standard housing run by slum landlords who play the rules so as to avoid costly building upgrades.  Sex-trafficing, essentially slavery.  And all this is just domestically.

We know this stuff happens - at the very least, we recognize that it could happen, when we choose to think about it.  We don't want to think about it; we don't want our own lives to be negatively impacted by the tragedies or complications of others.  We love the idea that a simple, individual act can make a massive difference - like throwing a starfish back into the ocean - but the idea that we must change the pattern of our own lives, that's too much.  

At least, it's too much to do for a cause or a wicked problem - there's nothing in crises of such scale for us to relate to, to personalize, to internalize.  


We love heroes.  We love bravery.  We love it when individuals are brave enough to tell their personal stories, express their vulnerabilities - it's almost a cathartic experience.  We all have stories of suffering, after all - we simply fear to tell them, lest we be judged by them.  As we judge others by their perceived weaknesses, whatever their cause.

Which is why the stories we love most are come-back stories of triumph, redemption, perseverance. We can live vicariously through the bravery and resilience of others.  Sometimes we can even be inspired to acts of such bravery ourselves.


Erin Kang is a hero.  She's a woman with a wild mane of hair and a laugh that makes the windows shake.  Erin has an infectious energy, a fierce determination and a passion for building strength in the world around her.  This strength isn't a shield to hide her vulnerabilities, a mask to cover her own emotional scars.  Erin's strength is a product of her personal story.

Through her initiative Stories of Ours, Erin has created a forum for individuals to tell their stories, humanizing themselves to others, creating bonds of fellowship with their audience/community that transcends differences of ethnicity, gender, language or belief.  It's empowering stuff that also builds bridges of understanding between communities.

Much like the picture of little dead Aylan Kurdi presents an image any parent of any background can relate to, Stories of Ours builds common ground and lays the seeds for a community of understanding - and engagement.


It's great that we're all taking about the Syrian Crisis.  It's like that time we talked about Haiti, or Nepal, and acted - for a while.  Then we moved on.  We'd done our bit, like casting a vote on election day - the rest is someone else's responsibility.

It's someone else's responsibility because it's an over there problem; it's a not-in-my-backyard problem.  They aren't us - they are statistics, news images, causes, crises.  They aren't people; they're narrative.  

People aren't narrative - they're story.  We're all story.  Stories are what humanize us, what bind us together, what motivate us to be more than words on a page but part of something greater.

So - how might we humanize the Syrian crisis, humanize the people that are suffering over there in a way that we can relate to them as neighbours, as clearly as if they were over here?  How do we do this when we're a community of strangers on our own soil?


Stories sell.  Stories create community.  Stories have the power to humanize the dehumanizing, just as the story of Aylan Kurdi has brought home the human consequences of the Syrian crisis.

There are a lot of Canadians with direct ties to the Middle East, to Syria, to family members and friends for whom the crisis isn't a news hit, but a lived experience.  These Canadians have stories to tell - about what it was like to be there, about what it's like now to lie awake at night worrying.

These are stories any one of us can relate to.  These are the stories that can turn an over-there narrative into a human connection.


We will move on from the Syrian Crisis to the next big thing, eventually.  We always do.  

Image result for ashley burnham first nationUnless it isn't a big thing, a crisis, a headline, a picture.  If what was really at stake was the safety and promise of people just like us, neighbours in our global village, that might be different.

We needn't stop there, either.  When we hear powerful stories about people who have endured hardship and found the strength to step up, raise their voice, become agents of change - like Erin Kang, or like Ashley Burnham, we can find something more than despair.  We can find hope.  We can be inspired.

For when heroes tell relatable, human stories, we realize they're not so different from any of us - and that we all have the power to make a difference, if we make that choice.

How might we empower the voices that speak to our humanity about the wicked problems that plague our society, our world?  How can we create a platform where such speakers can find both their voice and the confidence to raise it - and how can we share these stories far and wide?  Who has the power to do this?


We all have that power.  We have the power to be in practice everything we like to believe about ourselves as Canadians in theory.  We only need the motivation to exercise it.

If we can find those stories, share those stories, build those bonds and find the inspiration to step up ourselves, then we will have a story the world desperately wants to hear.

It's not about Canada setting a standard, or failing to meet a standard.  It's about how our story can motivate others to find their own hero within.


Talk to your neighbours, tell your own story online or in person.  You'll be surprised how quickly the sharing can spread, once it's begun - and you'll be amazed at how much you'll find in common with others as they tell their stories as well.

For inspiration, find out more about Stories of Ours here.  

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