I just went to a fabulous event curated by John Guidry about “the processes by which people collect stories and use them to tell stories,” through a series of panelists who use oral history practices to document our world and the lives we lead. The panelists ranged from a journalist covering the story of a counterfeit artist, an oral historian capturing 9-11 stories, stories of LGBT love and identity, and the everyday stories of StoryCorps.
After writing about law and policy what seems like forever, I was struck how touched I was by the narratives that I heard. I can recall times I felt incredibly moved by a Supreme Court decision or an ACLU victory, but it is the human stories behind these triumphs that we all connect to, not the legal justification (regardless of how eloquently written) that has the power to bring one to tears.
Stories, in effect, carry a dual identity. They are personal to their holder, but they belong to us all in some way, as illustrative of culture and shared identity. One person’s story is all of our story; one story can change law, it can affect an international agenda, or it can change the course of history. It really is amazing, the power of stories.
Policy work, too, is often separated into a world of dichotomies. Policymakers are on the hill or in offices, usually geographically separated from the stories that color the underlying motivations to change policy. Policy is boring, legal and dry, not made to be read or understood by the storyholders. Even in thinking about my own interest in property rights, I can’t help but realize how much richness and complexity is lost when breaking down property formalization into a series of processes and procedures.
How can we think about stories to better communicate policies, and to better make policies? Do they ever have a place together? Are they inherently two parallel, yet separate processes?