What is Public Narrative?

Although I have participated in all three of the Jewcology Public Narrative trainings, I still struggle to succinctly describe the experience (don’t tell). So I did what all good folks do in this day and age, I googled it.

Marshall Ganz, Professor at the Kennedy School, long time organizer, has this to say in his course outline where he teaches the tenants of it:

The questions of what am I called to do, what my community is called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as Moses’ conversation with God at the burning bush.

Why me? asks Moses, when called to free his people. And, who – or what – is calling me? Why these people? Who are they anyway? And why here, now, in this place?

Public narrative is the art of translating values into action.It is a discursive process through which individuals, communities, and nations construct their identity, make choices, and inspire action. Because it engages both “head” and “heart”, narrative can instruct and inspire – teaching us not only how we should act, but moving us to act.

It is a very powerful experience to sit in a room with other Jewish environmental activists and talk about times we have been disheartened, rejected, ostracized or belittled. It’s exciting to then talk about when we’ve been supported, boosted up and empowered. But the real movement forward is when we are able to take others with us. Our movement grows as we build community and momentum together.

I have found public narrative is a tool for community engagement as much as it is an opportunity to clarify and convey my purpose and vision. As one who recently started a Jewish environmental organization, it was been a helpful process of contemplation, clarification and articulation. As I better understand why I do this work, I am better able to call upon my community to join me.

More than we need to feel empowered by discussing areas of hope, we need to act to engage and empower others in our movement. Public narrative is a way to do that.

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