The Big Bad Wolf is the archetypal antagonist: predatory, menacing, sly and ruthless. These traits are only made more prominent when juxtaposed against innocence personified, the Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood. Fairytale it may be, but dangerous dichotomies – villain:hero; them:us; bad:good – are increasingly pervasive in our society.
Such reductive and politicised stereotypes are emblematic of a much deeper socio-political storytelling crisis. And it is to this crisis that we want to respond with Connective Realities, creating an empathic network that opens bridges and cuts across borders.
If, as the diplomat Martin Wright famously claimed, diplomacy is the art of communication, then to put it bluntly, we are failing. Hackneyed storytelling – or communication – is an unfortunate hallmark of the current diplomatic framework: burning bridges, dividing societies and making little use of the opportunities offered by technology.
Communications – be it an individual’s snap on Instagram or a president’s post on Twitter – are worryingly astrategic and can breed societal fear. Being first is privileged over being right. Indeed, a project carried out under the auspices of UK Research and Innovation explored how a culture of fear has spread a practice of online ‘othering’. In a fast-moving information landscape, in which fear sells, we are confronted by one morbid headline or sound byte after another. In this charged and threatened state, it can be difficult to categorise and process this newsreel.
A common coping mechanism is to diminish the complexity of the narrative, warping reality until all that remains is a fairytale stereotype. In other words, it is all too easy to reduce our fear by projecting villainous attributes onto the other: they are the Big Bad Wolf. This only serves to amplify real and imagined differences. What’s more – at the individual level – the impact of those 240 characters does not always hit-home, thanks to the relative anonymity afforded by technology. And so the fire is quickly becoming a furnace.
What if we disrupted the status quo? Let us reclaim communication as a force for good and write new stories in the spaces technology has opened up to us. To do this, we need to understand the perspectives of the other, to recognise the multitude of identities in every individual and in doing so build trust at the interpersonal level. Let us put an end to reductive, binary modes of thought. Too often the richness of human emotions is sidelined from politics; but a more complete understanding of hearts and minds should be the building blocks to effective communication and by extension diplomacy. Emotions are fuzzy; they are messy and complex, entangled with socio-political conditions. Our stories need to recognise this: purposefully searching for the nuance and the contradictions, enriching the narrative with secondary characters and sub-plots. It may not be an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
Technology can be used to amplify the reach of these new stories. Exciting trends – such as Virtual Reality (VR) – offer a powerful medium for storytelling. Connective Realities will create a platform of immersive technology resources, aimed at young people and educators, that tell the story of current global realities. Engaging with this platform will enable individuals to fully experience the stories of the other; encouraging greater learning and understanding and more honest human connections. Moreover, building a mosaic of individual stories can be narrative changing at the policy and societal level. This creative form of civic education will propagate an empathic society and it might just push that Big Bad Wolf back into the realm of fairytale.