Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Power of Positive

Residents of Kiel, Germany, welcome a bus carrying refugees arriving in the town. Photograph: Carsten Rehder/EPA 

The Power of Positive
David Byrd, MNA Candidate '20

When a group of students participating in the Rome immersion program on refugee management from USF’s School of Management were asked to write a word that describes refugees as portrayed by the media, the results were predictable. “Terrorist”, “Dangerous”, and “Criminals” were some of the words reluctantly offered as examples. These words are heard on a daily basis in the media and the constant drumbeat of fear and misperception has shaped the narrative and the lens through which we discuss our fellow human beings who are forced to leave their homes, families, and friends in order to survive.

A USA Today article from May 2018 describes the changing attitudes in the United States as the Trump administration tells its story about refugees. Storytelling was a constant theme as we travelled to Rome to hear from organizations serving migrants and refugees in the Italian capitol. The organizations, including Medici Senza Frontiere and Save the Children Italy were shocked by reports attacking their own organizations and the political climate that no longer welcomed refugees into their country or allowed for humanitarian aid, including rescuing people drowning in the sea.

How do you combat the negative perceptions and attitudes dominating the news? The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urges organizations and individuals to focus on positive stories and building empathy and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College provides a framework to pursue this strategy.

One cannot engage and learn about refugees and not be touched by the humanity, the desperation and the emotion of their stories. Imagine the fear of being forced to leave everything you know in order to escape and survive? Imagine reaching the borders of a safe country and being told that you are not welcome and must continue to live in danger? Imagine being treated as less than human?

What if instead of negative perceptions the positive stories were the loudest voices dominating the news? What if instead of false narratives, facts and humanity guided the political landscape and refugees and migrants were welcomed with open arms? Organizations will need to be courageous and consistent in advocating for their constituents. Positive storytelling is not only necessary for the strength of an organization and to shape public opinion on the necessity or ludicrousness of a border wall, but it is also essential in saving lives. Policies are shaped by public opinion and the current climate is that of fear and xenophobia. By continuing to make a stand and advocating for those in dire need and highlighting and distributing the positive messages, we can create a climate of inclusion, solidarity, and hope.