John Paul Lederach 

Professor of International Peacebuilding, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

When I first came into this field I bumped into the word "storytelling" in reference to a phase in the mediation process, but it was actually a rather narrow definition of story: tell us what happened and why you're mad so we can get you past being mad and find a solution. And that reference point -- while at times a powerful component, because people may have some other emotional release, and I'm thinking here of course of the US model of sitting down in a one- or two-hour session in which the storytelling component is a twenty-minute phase -- the term I'm referring to, or the content, or the understanding I would give to storytelling is much more about finding a way to reflect in a much wider sense on what's happening in a situation and/or the experience of people. Storytelling in that regard is much more like an art form and in the art form you're doing certain things that, I believe, help break you out of an exclusively cognitive, linear rational understanding of both conflict analysis and solution seeking.

A story, like other forms of proverbial wisdom - sitting around a campfire and hearing people talk - one of the interesting things about a story is that there is a holistic component to it. And whoever the listeners are interact with it like it's a painting. If you stand before a painting, everyone has an opportunity to say, "this is what it's saying to me. This is what I see." And the story very much has that component to it. It is both on the side of the storyteller to put forward things, the ways they configure it, the ways they draw it out, but then it becomes very much of a live process in which there is an interaction and the interaction itself is something that's open for interpretation. So suddenly you're in a community of meaning-creation, and I think that's a lot of what conflict is about. It's about the search for meaning; it's about how do we makes sense of these things that are going on, and what are the ways that we might respond to it, that can move it toward - at least in terms of my wider goals - finding our way back to being human, being in the community, in as constructive a way as we can? And so for me, storytelling has those elements of it. It touches people at a level that includes but circumvents the limitations that our mind wants to put on things. That is, the mind wants to put control on a lot of what we do in a way that doesn't let us touch the more whole part of what's going on with the process and stories and other forms of art, I think, keep walking around it in a more holistic way.