Michael Galbraith Q and A
For some time now, I have wanted to feature the organization New Story Leadership for the Middle East on this blog. I was partnered with its founder, Paul Costello, in an activity at a conference a few years back. Perhaps someday Paul will be part of this Q&A series. In the meantime, a Q&A with staff member Michael Galbraith seems like an excellent way to introduce readers to the important work of New Story Leadership for the Middle East.
Bio: Michael Galbraith is the social-media and outreach manger for New Story Leadership for the Middle East. Here’s his bio in his own words: “In this role, I am responsible for the management and coordination of our social-media network and increasing the brand awareness of our program in Washington, DC. Prior to my work here in the United States, I was a political consultant and campaign manager for Mr. Michael Copeland, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was in this role, that I first discovered social media and its potential in advertising. My background in New Story Leadership comes from my love of history, I am a master’s graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, specialising in American and Irish History. Through my love of history, I was connected to Mr. Paul Costello, and seemingly was one of the few people in the world never to have met him! Paul has helped me immensely with my quest on getting to America and continues to this day in my daily toil to get a coveted visa to work here full-time. As of writing, I am managing the social-media advertisement of our 2012 Program, which is due to begin in the summer, and I am continuing to manage the day-to-day running of NSL’s social-media network.”
Q&A with Michael Galbraith:
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling /narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: I first became interested in storytelling primarily because of Mr. Paul Costello. Paul has been at the forefront of narrative history for over 20 years through his work with not only New Story Leadership for the Middle East, but also Washington, Ireland, South Africa Washington Program, and The Centre for Narrative Studies. His passion for telling a new story, one of peace, mutual respect, and understanding has resonated with a great number of people over the years. As someone from Northern Ireland, I instantly understood the objectives of what Paul was doing because in areas of conflict, old stories have had the result of igniting blind hatred amongst young people for generations. The approach of New Story Leadership for the Middle East is to dispel these myths by bringing diverse groups together so that they can learn the truth of one another, which in turn can foster a new beginning and new hope for the region.
Q: Can you talk a bit about NSL’s 2012 campaign and why people should be interested? Beyond the young people who actually participate in the program, how can others help the cause?
A: New Story Leadership seeks to inspire a new story of possibility for the Middle East by bringing outstanding Israeli and Palestinian students to Washington DC to experience American culture and democracy. Coming to Washington forces participants out of their comfort zone. Everything is new. A team of total strangers comes to America to work in new jobs in a new city, in a new country, sharing a new family with a new roommate, experiencing one unforgettable summer. They have to work together to get through it. The NSL program is however not political or partisan. It does not take any side in the Middle East conflict, other than being unambiguously on the side of the young people from the region. The program does not engage in lobbying activities of any kind, and it is not within its purposes to pursue any political agenda. Its distinct focus is on education in leadership and demonstrating the power of stories for personal and cultural transformation.
We are however a relatively new organisation, we do not have the 15-year history of our sister program, Washington Ireland. These first few years have thus been spent perfecting the program and bringing our first students from the Middle East. It has not always been easy and certainly, like most other new groups, we are almost always talking about money and advertising. As a result we rely heavily upon social media not only to advertise our program but also to interview our prospective candidates and to seek financial donations. For those wishing to help, we ask them to go to our Facebook site and to register their interest on our wall. Even a simply “Like” of the page helps spread our message that little bit further.
Those interested in donating can make their pledge at our Web site.
At NSL, we value everyone’s input and assistance. Whether its social media expertise, photography, video editing, research, fundraising, or promotional work, we are interested in hearing from anyone who would be interested in giving up their time to help write a new story for the Middle East.Q: How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?) What definition do you espouse?
A: In dealing with areas of conflict, the definition of a “story” is difficult because there is rarely an accepted form of events. Even a simple story, which normally would be readily accepted by everyone, can produce passionate and fierce debate amongst opposing sides in the Middle East. At New Story Leadership for the Middle East, we seek to write a new story of possibility by bringing young Israeli and Palestinian students together. Through living, learning, and working together, these future leaders strive to become a team of compelling witnesses to their newly discovered hope about building a better future. We do not approach the Middle East with bias or partisanship. Our story is the challenging of blind prejudice, the development of friendship and the hope that goes back to the Middle East in these young people.
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: I don’t think that there is one reason in particular to explain it because history, culture and storytelling mean different things to different people. However, I do think that the onset of the digital age has helped create an environment for people to explore the world in which they live in. Much can be said for the Internet, both good and bad, but there is no doubt that it has greatly shrunk the world and facilitated the discovery of truth and understanding through storytelling.
I also think that narrative history is winning some new support as a result of a backlash against celebrity culture. People are not willing to accept this new form of role model or entertainment and so are looking to storytelling, narrative history, and other branches like genealogy as a means of breaking free from the monotony of today’s “being famous for being famous” culture. By contrast, storytelling is the ultimate in reality programming, because it is real!
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/ narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: Probably not to judge someone until you have met them, talked to them, understood them and for them to do the same with you. It is all too easy to label someone as being something that they are not simply because of historical prejudices. Blind hatred breeds because people are unable or unwilling to challenge the things they hear. As President Kennedy once said, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.
And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.