Learning and Living: Knowing the Stories that Shape your Neighbourhood
In the film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the four Pevensie children return to the land of Narnia after being away for about a year. However, while only a year had passed in England, 1,300 years had passed in Narnia. The stories of the Pevensies’ reign as the great kings and queens of Narnia passed into myth, the castle was destroyed and the Narnians were hiding in fear of the powerful Telmarine Empire that sought to wipe them out. While the Narnians have grown accustomed to their new life in hiding, the Pevensie children are shocked to find that so much has changed. Aslan (the great lion who rules the world and is a Christ-figure in Lewis’ novels) has been forgotten, the trees no longer dance, animals have gone savage and cannot speak, and evil seems to reign over all. The children must learn the story of this new Narnia in order to survive in it and work with the Narnians, but their story of Narnia also has an important role to play. By reminding the Narnians of their history, the stories of Aslan and the time of peace and prosperity for all, the Pevensie children help restore peace and freedom to Narnia.
Just like the difference between the Pevensie’s story of Narnia and the Narnian’s stories, the places that we live, work and play are rich with diverse stories and histories. Think about the stories that you have of your neighbourhood. You may have stories of businesses opening and closing, stories of tragedies and community celebrations, stories of that big storm, stories of when those trees were planted or that land was cleared. To some extent, you know the story of the places where you spend time.
However, you don’t know the whole story. Even if you know the history of a place from the time that it was settled, do you know the stories from before that? The stories of floods, storms, changes in wildlife populations, of how the land was used by Indigenous peoples. Do you know the stories from each perspective? How an apartment building was created that brought new people into the neighbourhood, but at the same time land was cleared, putting plant and animal species in danger.
To be clear, I’m not expecting each person to know every part of the story of every place where they live, work and play. I’m also not advocating that one kind of story or perspective is more important than another. I’m simply highlighting the fact that my story of a place, my knowledge of it, is not the only story. In order to really know a place, to make a meaningful positive difference in that place, we need to be open to the rest of the story.
If the Pevensies refused to listen to the past 1,300 years of Narnian history, they would have been very ill-equipped to defeat the Telmarines. If the Narnians rejected the Pevensies’ story of their peaceful reign and the power of Aslan, they would never have found the courage to come out of hiding. Perhaps each side could have made progress alone, but by listening to one another and reflecting on the entire history of Narnia their victory is lasting, and its positive effects are far-reaching.
By learning more of the story of the places we find ourselves we connect more closely with the land and the populations (human, plant and animal) who call it home. When we foster those connections, we will be more motivated to take special care of these places and populations. Even if you already care deeply about a place, learning more of its stories will provide rich insights which can help you act and speak in ways that bolster your efforts to show that care.
So how do we learn more of the story of the places where we live, work and play? While I’m not suggesting I have a comprehensive list, here’s some ideas for a starting point:
1 – Cultivate the attitude of a learner. If you’re not open to learning, then the stories don’t matter. You need to be willing to hear new stories, even if those stories challenge your view of places and populations. Ask questions. Do your research. Talk to your neighbour. But in all of those things, be willing to learn. Proverbs 19:27 reminds us that, “If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.” (CEV). Approach each encounter with the readiness to discover something new, to see familiar things in fresh ways. Then, be willing to let that learning translate into your words, actions and attitudes towards your neighbourhood and the populations with whom you share that space.
2 – Actively explore the neighbourhood. Get outside and take notice of the landscape. What kind of buildings surround you? What kind of plants or animals surround you? When did these things first appear in this area? Go out to the places where people spend time; coffee shops, malls, university campuses, gyms, community centres, parks. Go to your local library and see what programs are taking place. Take some time to research the plants, animals and buildings that you’ve noticed around you. Learn more stories by seeing them and reading about them.
3 – Find the story-tellers. Find the people who have been in your neighbourhood longer than you and ask them about their stories. Find the people who live in a different part of the neighbourhood and ask them. Find the people whose cultural or linguistic background is different than yours and ask them about their stories. Find the teachers, librarians, historians, artists, geographers, archivists and tour guides. Find the people who have dedicated their lives to uncovering and telling stories and then ask them about the stories of the places where you live, work and play. “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14, NLT). There is safety and excitement in learning about the stories of your neighbourhood, in listening to the story-tellers who surround you everyday.
And when you begin to discover those stories, let them change you. Let them transform how you view the places in which you find yourself and the populations with whom you share those places. Let those transformed views translate into transformed actions and words as you seek to invest in your neighbourhood.