On a recent trip to Israel, a group of US evangelical leaders listened to both Israeli and Palestinian voices. The Israelis grumbled that their story is not being heard in the United States, while the Palestinians complained that US media don’t present any story but that of the Israelis. It brought home the oft-repeated truth that conflicts are not only about justice but also, and perhaps more important, about competing narratives. The takeaways for the US context were obvious. We experience daily clashing narratives from Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, whites, mainliners, evangelicals, pro-choicers, pro-lifers, gays, straights, men, women, elites, the poor—to name a few.
Take two competing narratives in urban neighborhoods. To oversimplify: In much of the black community, the arc of the story centers on white policemen racially targeting young black men, harassing, beating, and killing without consequence. Yet law enforcement officials tell the story of facing tremendous pressures as they seek to keep the peace in neighborhoods caught in drug and gang wars.
Our narratives have various purposes. In an insightful blog post, John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, says, “As human beings, we resist atomization and fragmentation; we yearn to connect and build on the efforts of others. We also seek meaning, purpose, and identity . . . something that narratives, and little else, are exquisitely designed to provide.” In other words, narratives define the conflict, name the antagonists, and spell out the resolution.
Narratives are, of course, biased. They rarely lie about the facts, but they are selective in their use of them. In the larger American race narrative, whites can wax ...1