Helping people see the world through each other’s eyes, overcoming personal barriers, and connecting people to prevent or resolve conflict are core propositions of participatory narrative inquiry. So it is for good reasons that conflict resolution will be the October topic in our 2018 series of monthly PNI talks. So there must be a good reason to write a blog post on this topic now. Well, there is ….
Every once in a while an article emerges that stands out. Last week that was Complicating the Narratives by veteran journalist Amanda Ripley. She describes her inquiry into the role of journalism with respect to conflict.
Maybe it is best if you read the article first, but for those who don’t, I will briefly set the scene. Amanda starts her story with what happened when Oprah Winfrey hosted an episode of the television show 60 Minutes in which 14 people – half Republican, half Democrat – were invited to talk about topics of disagreement. For example: Twitter, President Trump, health care, and the prospect of a new civil war.
The attempt failed, largely due to Winfrey’s failure to address the contradictions and thereby enrich the conversation. The result was dull and superficial television. This set Ripley off into a (re)search project ranging from soul searching to talking with diverse people whose jobs involve handling conflict. She spoke to psychologists, mediators, lawyers, rabbis, researchers of conflict, and other people who know how to disrupt toxic narratives and get people to reveal deeper truths. Probably unknowingly, Ripley did a PNI project.
Central to her story is what that all means for the journalists’ role:
The lesson for journalists (or anyone) working amidst intractable conflict: complicate the narrative. First, complexity leads to a fuller, more accurate story. Secondly, it boosts the odds that your work will matter — particularly if it is about a polarizing issue. When people encounter complexity, they become more curious and less closed off to new information. They listen, in other words.
Complicating the narrative is – of course – something PNI excels at.
Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don’t fit the narrative — on purpose.
In the first half of the article, Ripley describes her voyage by citing the people she spoke to and commenting on her conversations. In her search for ways to enrich the journalist approach, she encountered ideas on how ‘intractable conflict’ emerges and how to handle it. She took 50 hours of conflict resolution courses. That opened her eyes to what she didn’t know and couldn’t do:
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years, writing books and articles for Time, the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal and all kinds of places, and I did not know these lessons. After spending more than 50 hours in training for various forms of dispute resolution, I realized that I’ve overestimated my ability to quickly understand what drives people to do what they do. I have overvalued reasoning in myself and others and undervalued pride, fear and the need to belong. I’ve been operating like an economist, in other words — an economist from the 1960s.
She also visited a Difficult Conversations Lab that studies the effect of reading prior information before entering a discussion and learned how to become a ‘conversation whisperer’. She concluded that is essential to revive complexity in a time of false simplicity. All very PNI like.
The question of course is how to revive complexity. In the second half of the article, Ripley lists six strategies journalists can use to complicate the narrative. All of these strategies feature nuance, fuel contradiction, and raise ambiguity.
The core of this article is an attempt to map these six strategies onto existing PNI practices. The article has two aims: to lay the foundation for PNI practitioners who want to reach out to journalists; and to connect to journalists who want to embrace PNI methods.
Continues in source: Complicating the Narratives with PNI | PNI Institute