Elif Shafak: ‘We need to tell different stories, to humanise the other’

Elif Shafak: ‘We need to tell different stories, to humanise the other’

The art of storytelling is one of our last remaining democratic spaces. Now it must become one of our main acts of resistance against dehumanisation.

History has shown that it doesn’t start with concentration camps or mass murder, or civil war or genocide. It always starts with words: stereotypes, cliches, tropes. The fight against dehumanisation, therefore, also needs to start with words. Stories. It is easier to make sweeping generalisations about others if we know close to nothing about them; if they remain an abstraction. To move forward, we need to reverse the process: start by rehumanising those who have been dehumanised. And for that we need the art of storytelling.

Data and factual information are crucial, but not enough to bring down the walls of numbness and indifference, to help us empathise with people outside our tribes. We need emotional connections. But more than that, just as we need sisterhood against patriarchy, we need storyhood against bigotry. East or west, when we relate to others we do so through stories. Literature can be incredibly powerful, universally relevant and, most importantly, a healing force.

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