[Advice] Storytelling for the Peace Builder

It’s hard to imagine a world without stories and storytelling; after all, human beings are narrative animals.  And where peace builders are concerned, it’s even harder to imagine a world without conflict.

Conflict is a process of change driven by stories. Stories that, when repeated often enough—and with enough veracity—become capital “T” truth in conflict parties’ minds, hearts and psyches.

Peace builders are experienced in hearing stories of conflict and disruption. They tease apart those narratives to move parties past “who did what to whom” and toward, resolution, reconciliation or even forgiveness.

But, when peace builders have to switch and become brand builders, sometimes they struggle with stories about their business, their peace practices and their approaches to advocating for peace in the world. This has created a space where peace builders are sometimes defined by market forces, rather than acting to create narratives that will drive the market to their door.

Go back and look at that paragraph for a minute: That set of thoughts right there is a story, full of assumptions, truths and values.

All good story making revolves around a three act structure, focused around an epic journey of some type. Any reading this who has studied the books of Joseph Campbell—or seen Star Wars—will know what I’m talking about.

The peace builder as “hero” is a tough meme to construct for many peace builders. It smacks of violating client self-determination. A narrative where the client is the hero and the peace builder fades into the background, never to be seen or heard from again, is comfortable for many peace builders. Such a construct can be seductive, because it reinforces various themes and narratives baked into the structure of many peace building efforts, from education and training to certification and publishing.


The marketplace (i.e. potential clients and customers) enjoys the journey of heroes and even anti-heroes. Acknowledging this fact is not approval of it, so when constructing the story of an approach, process or philosophy, many peace builders would do well to follow three basic rules:

  • The brand client is always the hero—All good, memorable branding stories begin by focusing on the hero first and identifying that person and their role clearly (see the Apple campaign from 1984). When building a brand and a business, the conflicting parties are the heroes; but, they can only be heroic with a little guidance.
  • The brand narrative winds through every piece of content a peace builder creates—When I work with corporate training clients, the second best moment I experience is the moment when they tell me that they recognize me from my “heroic” photo, splayed “Superman-like,” across my marketing (see this here). My best moment is when all that fades as they come to realize, through instruction, training and guidance, that they have the power to succeed or fail if they want to—and on their own terms. When building business brand, images that are selected for your blog posts, your business card, and even your website and print media should all integrate and express the same narrative.
  • The brand narrative you want to send to clients must be consistent—The professional peace builder can send one, two or multiple messages to clients through multiple channels (see the Chipotle campaign here). And in a world with fractured and shortened attention spans—and multiple marketing niches and channels—it may be beneficial to send out multiple messages. Or, telling one story, one time, in one way may work better. Either way, the professional, savvy peace builder must decide on what the message will be—and where and how hard to promote it.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

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