We are curious to find out what we can learn about conflict and peace through culture…what does it look like if we start from the clothes we choose to wear, the films we make, the music we listen to and the places we memorialize? In Myanmar we are finding multiple conflicts which look different across the country, the complexity is mind-blowing, and in the future I will be reading reports of ceasefires and agreements with a new understanding.
Culture can be the everyday meaning we give to the way we construct our world. Our thinking today has been on the importance of narrative – what is the story which is being told? We have been asking (others and ourselves) ‘how did you first know about conflict, whatever that may mean to you’. We hear messages and stories from our parents, elders, teachers, media and friends – sometimes these become narratives – a message so powerful that we accept it as true. These narratives can tell us that there is an ‘other’ someone or some group who is different to us, or has characteristics we don’t like, or who can even threaten us. The narrative runs in our head and affects our attitudes and behaviour….which then can contribute to conflict.
The overall narrative that ‘going to a war is a heroic act’ (different to the reality that we know, which is that war is horrific) is prevalent in most societies and one accepted by many and used to support violent intervention and the arms trade. What we’re learning about the importance of narrative is not just revelation to direct violence, but is making me think about the politics in the UK (and now the USA). I am wondering how much the UK Leave campaign and the Trump campaign used narrative to win – how much is politics is now about the stories you tell, not the facts or policies you propose.
Here in Myanmar the narratives are as strong as they are in the U.K., and just like in the U.K. there are many who are creatively challenging them and creating new narratives about the importance of peace.