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Pt.2 The Counter Narrative

March 19, 2017

Question: How do you disrupt a dominant narrative?


Before I answer that;


The complexities of issues like West Papua can leave one feeling small and intimidated, amped up, angry and ready to charge.


In his book Made for Goodness Desmond Tutu suggests that we feel this way because we’re made for goodness. We all have a deep-set scene of justice. He goes on to point out that if evil was the norm, it wouldn’t be all over the evening news. This anger is more than understandable and YES, it is justified.



Here’s the problem; when we put voice to our feelings it’s like realising a pressure valve, we feel better for it. Expressing how we feel is a good thing- it’s a healthy!


But when did you last win a debate as complex as this based on emotion?


You can be furious at the situation, you should be, what you feel is justified. However, if there is no coherent counter narrative you run the risk of making a lot of smoke, but there is no fire and you don’t actually achieve anything.


This brings me to the comments section on pretty much any YouTube video. People actually spend time and energy fighting each other…over the internet.


How do we ensure our energy and time are not wasted?


In the course of preparing for the launch of Swim for West Papua, I have been challenged and encouraged by those working alongside me to manage my time and energy more effectively.


I am often challenged by the question “What did it achieve?”   


I spent some time reading an article in the Harvard Business Review called ‘Manage your Energy, Not Your Time’ this bit stuck with me;


“Often, people in conflict cast themselves in the role of victims, blaming others or external circumstances for their problems. Becoming aware of the difference between the facts in a given situation and the way we interpret those facts can be powerful in itself. It’s been a revelation for many of the people we work with to discover they have a choice about how to view an event and to recognize how powerfully the story they tell influences the emotions they feel”


This brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning of this blog; How do you subvert a dominant?


Answer: You tell a counter narrative.


In light of this question I came up with this statement.


History is told by the victor: What if the underdog had a better story?


That’s exactly what a counter narrative is. Here’s a great example;



In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people gathered in Washington DC to hear Martin Luther King speak. No invite was ever issued, there was no website to check the time or date, and nobody received an email reminder.


People sat for hours on buses and travelled from all over the United States of America because they believed. What Martin Luther King said, spoke to people’s hearts and they wanted to hear it for themselves – “I believe”, “I have a dream…”


MLK’s speech, motivated by the deep injustices suffered for decades, built on how it could and should be, not how it was. 


A counter narrative, subverts the dominant one and points out its flaws and failures while moving in its own way.


Swim for West Papua is a fantastic opportunity to give people their dignity and their freedom.



I believe that there is a story to tell, one which unifies all of us, calls us to be the best versions of ourselves, it’s positive, is full of hope, it stands up for the oppressed, it’s a story that is inspiring and inclusive.


Sustained transformation will only occur when we move through our anger and frustration and begin to put together counter narrative which is so compelling that they might actually win the day.


I believe that human rights should be extended to every human being.


I believe the West Papua people should be able to exercise their right to self-determination.


Do you?


If you believe that too then you must take ownership of this petition.


What if January 24th 2017 was the date that we started to tell and write a story that set a precedent.


Imagine that during the last week of August 2017 hundreds, if not thousands of people all around the world were swimming for West Papua…because they believed that too.


I am not activist. I do not stand in solidarity. I am a swimmer, and swimming, - is a doing word.


Tune in next week for part 3.


If you already want to help end the genocide in West Papua, you can sign the petition here. Add your name, #BackTheSwim and help #LetWestPapuaVote


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