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Israelis, Palestinians and an Irishman and the stories they tell

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You’ll be hard pressed to find a business more disrupted than media. While figuring out how to make a living in media may be a work in progress, there’s a relentless energy in media, a constant pushing, probing to bring stories into the light of day. Fortunately the Irish are very good at stories.

Paul Costello tapped the power of narrative to help the Irish write powerful new stories. An Australian educator, writer and founding director of The Center for Narrative Studies, he has designed training and leadership programs that use the power of stories for transformative change, and is the architect of the innovative narrative design of the 2000-2007 Washington Ireland Program (WIP). This six-month program of personal and professional development brings outstanding Protestant and Catholic university students from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Washington, DC for summer internships and leadership training. The program begins and ends with practical service in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

With the Washington Ireland program as an inspiration, Costello founded New Story Leadership for the Middle East (NSL), which seeks to help change the future there by changing the story and is guided by the premises that stories matter, new stories come from new voices, a safe space for new stories must be deliberately created and that new stories require time to take shape and work their influence.

Conor McManus, a politically-oriented young Dubliner (his Linkedin photo has him posing with Taoiseach Enda Kenny) with a recent Master’s degree from Dublin Institute of Technology, met Costello last summer, who invited him to come to DC and help establish a social media presence for NSL.

Here is an excerpt of Conor’s report after one month of “Israelis, Palestinians and an Irishman”:

“NSL brings ten Israelis and Palestinians to DC. Now in it’s second year, the programme seems to be making waves on Capitol Hill. Only yesterday, six of this year’s members gave speeches on the Hill in front of Congressmen, who have supported the programme and have interns working for them. Some of the stories were extremely moving. Samer Anabtawi, a Palestinian described his experience as a schoolboy on the bus ride home. The Israeli soldiers stopped the bus and after a period of time started to shoot at the bus. His description of the event made one feel like they were there with him. The most important point he made was that he had no anger over the incident. He felt getting angry about it would not help move the solution to peace forward.

“The professional standard set by these young people at events, like the Congressional Forum, is great and really makes the programme look good. But they have come a long way from when I met them some three weeks ago. The first night I met them, they were given business cards by and they questioned the need to carry them. I must confess I was shocked. They are working in the political capital of the world and they don’t see why they should carry business cards. This was my second night in DC and I already knew it was going to be a tough job.

“The ladies and gents, individually, are great. Get them in a group and it’s a different story. Some argue over the conflict at the moment and defend each others respected territories. One can relate their disputes to the ones seen in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Since stubbornness, a refusal to listen to the opposition, lack of respect for opposing views can stifle communication, so the group has a weekly “listening circle” where the members air annoyances.

“At the last circle, I described my anger with how the team members discuss the conflict with each other. I told them, how as a young boy, I would never in my wildest dreams expect Ian Paisley and Martin McGuniness to be sitting together, working for the future of Northern Ireland. I also told them that I would never have thought I’d see Queen Elizabeth come to Ireland. I think it hit home with them that if it can happen within the complexity of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it could happen with Israel and Palestine. However, it is up to this generation to start sitting down and moving forward, to listen to one another and respect each other’s feelings.”

…and stories. Thanks Conor.

For more on New Story Leadership, go to its website and for more on Conor, check his Linkedin profile.

MEDIA PING: On the first Tuesday of each month the Irish American Writers and Artists holds its “Salon” at Symphony Space’s Thalia Café in Manhattan. IAW&A members present in the medium of their choice: reading, poetry, comedy, music, etc. The event is meant to be low-keyed and social. Participants present their work while listeners enjoy a drink and good spirit of the evening. ”Enjoyed the craic,” the Irish might say. Friends and others are urged to attend, and many attendees have become members on the spot in order to read their works. There’s no charge or cover, just buy a drink if you’d like. The Thalia Café is at 2537 Broadway (entrance on 95th Street) in NYC. The next IAW&A Salon is Tues., Aug. 2 from 7 to 9 PM.


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