Last weekend, over a hundred journalists, mediamakers, artists, and creatives came together in a quiet, meditative retreat center in the Catskill Mountains to discuss a newly coined concept: Restorative Narrative. While the approach—which emphasizes storytelling that is community-minded, contextual, and human-centered—isn’t necessarily new, it wasn’t until it had a name that we could actually come together to discuss it.
Credit is due to Images and Voices of Hope, which recently took a deliberate step in defining this type of storytelling, which counters the sensationalism and dehumanization of mainstream media. The concept is based on a simple premise: that we as humans inherently feel better about ourselves—and the world—when we have opportunities to empathize and connect. So restorative narratives are ones that paint a meaningful picture of our social, cultural, and political context by thoughtfully conveying human experience. And the concept goes beyond the traditional notion of storytelling, by acknowledging: 1) the transformative power of people sharing their own stories, and 2) the opportunity for communities to come together around shared stories, and build new meaning together in pursuit of a common goal.
For many of us who work in the small and growing field of using storytelling as a tool for social change, these concepts are very familiar. But the fact that more and more players are acknowledging the need for this approach is promising. My hope is that, one day, we won’t need to call it out as “restorative narrative” because it will just be the way we approach and understand all storytelling.