For the past 15 years in my video production classes I've "preached" that "facts don't change people. Ironically, In the past six months I have found myself trying to do just that, use facts to change people's minds. I have been putting together what I believed to be well-crafted arguments (full of facts) in response to someone's single sentence diatribe. Surely, when people have all the facts and are educated on the issues, they will "see the light." Studies demonstrate that this is not the case. I have found that this is not the case. You can conduct your own study. Let me know if your findings are different.
But do people change their minds? Yes! They do. I have. And I personally know people who have changed their minds on issues which were highly important to them. Not just minor changes, but they completely changed their world view. For example a radical Jewish American Zionist (self described) who now is a avid proponent of Palestinian rights and against Jewish occupation. Skeptical? What changed his mind and the minds of others?
Stories. Do not underestimate the power of the personal narrative!
I was having a conversation with an acquaintance when she shifted the conversation toward filmmaking and some of my past projects. "That film you did completely changed my viewpoint and understanding of that issue," she confided. I was taken aback. I had no idea that my film would have had any impact on this woman. I had always perceived this woman to be very educated and open to other people and cultures, so quit honestly, I didn't even have her in the category of someone who would have really benefitted from my film.
The film she was speaking of is not full of statistics and charts, rather it is a series of stories told by many different people regarding a social and political situation. There are a few gut-wrenching stories but many narratives simply speak to people's day-to-day struggles. What I have learned over the years, and especially during the making of that film, is that people relate to peoples' simple day-to-day struggles. They relate to lost dreams and opportunities and not to the unimaginable overwhelming (at least for most Americans) pain of war. We think that people will become involved when they witness the horror of war or great environmental devastation. But they don't. They shut down. What people react to and what they can empathize with are the small moments and the "small" stories.
As a filmmaker, I am a bridge between the people who I interview and the audience who views the film. I attempt to make connections between both peoples. It requires understanding and making a connection with both parties, which I'm not always able to make. Sometimes I don't Want to make it. That is usually when my own bias or ego gets in the way. There is also the question of what morsel of information will reach your audience. Sometimes it has been the most trivial thing in a film that will resonate with a person, but it may not resonate at all with me. For a filmmaker this makes the editing room terrifying. What will I cut out of this film that may potentially help another person understand this issue?
For one college age woman, it was a Louis Vuitton handbag (or rather an imitation of a Louis Vuitton handbag) In one of my films, I had recorded a Palestinian mother (in traditional Islamic dress) and her young son getting a hair cut at the barber parlor. I included the moment to show that Palestinian families are much like ours and that life at times is just "normal" What I didn't notice during editing was the mother was holding a Louis Vuitton (knockoff) hand bag. This didn't go unnoticed by the young American student watching the film who said, "I never imagined that they would be into fashion." What she was conveying is that she didn't think "they" would be like me. This moment humanized Palestinians for her. It was such a simple moment, coming very early on in the film, but it made an impact. The power of storytelling.
I never really know whether sharing these stories will make a difference. I'm hopeful, but I don't really know.
In 2003, I was hired to record stories for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians - Waaganakising Odawa. It was the first time in the tribes' history that their stories had been recorded and shared via video. Together we completed four programs on the tribes history and culture. One program was broadcast throughout Michigan via PBS affiliate stations. Another program "Journey to Sovereignty," chronicles the tribe's reaffirmation with the United States Government which led to their sovereign status. The film was shared locally among educators and local law enforcement. Six years of work was summed up in the statement by Tribal Chairman, Frank Ettawageshik. "This video has been the biggest aid in restoring relations between the local police department and the tribe." Storytelling changes minds.
When policeman listed to stories told by tribal members, they began to understand the effects of historical trauma on the community. They began to share the tribal members pain as well as their joy. Storytelling builds bridges.
Some may say that storytelling is just a form of propaganda. I submit that storytelling (people sharing their personal narratives) is not propaganda. Propaganda instills fear. Propaganda promotes divisions and exclusions. Storytelling on the other hand promotes empathy and understanding. Storytelling connects us to something inside ourselves which helps us connect with the other person.
I believe that by sharing personal narratives we can help people make the necessary connections to create meaning dialogue and make informed decisions. Everyone needs a voice. Everyone needs to be heard in a democracy. But more than being just "heard" people must make a connection. Sharing personal narratives builds these bridges.
If you'd like to read more about the study mentioned above. Visit this link. "How Facts Backfire" from the Boston Globe.