In an age of endless war and intense political polarization, Michael McRay’s new book offers an antidote to alienation, suspicion, and fear. I Am Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World (Herald Press, April 21, 2020, foreword by Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier), presents true stories of reconciliation and peace-building. Listening to people who are finding ways to live together without violence can guide Americans concerned about deepening divisions in the United States.
McRay has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Trinity College’s Belfast campus and works with the global story nonprofit Narrative 4, founded by National Book Award winning novelist Colum McCann. He traveled to Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, to interview activists, peace-builders, and former combatants, including grieving parents who comfort each other across enemy lines, a woman who meets her father’s killer, and a young man who uses theater to counter the oppression of his people.
“Peace isn’t built through bumper sticker slogans and pleasant conversations,” McRay says. “Peace is a difficult, painful and complex journey.” The people who share their stories in I Am Not Your Enemy present hard truths about our misguided ideas about concepts like forgiveness, reconciliation, and empathy. “People in power prefer a victim calling for forgiveness and reconciliation to one calling for vindication,” McRay says. Empathy for the sake of empathy isn’t enough, it must lead to compassionate action for improving the world. And as a Palestinian peace activist tells McRay, “Dialogue is not an end unto itself: “Dialogue is a tool. A carrier from one side’s truth to a bigger truth that also includes the other side.”
The lessons for Americans are manifold. “No matter how much some of us might wish it, the people who don’t vote like us or think like us aren’t going anywhere,” McRay says. We’ll always live together, so we must learn to live together well with those we find difficult. More often than not it’s how we deal with difference that determines our potential to be peaceable.”
“If we ever want to march out of the hell of our divisions, we must tell the truth.,” McRay says. “We need to hold each other accountable for our violent scapegoating and dehumanizing.”
McRay remains cautious about the belief that common ground will be what saves us — there might not always be enough of it. What might save us is learning how to live well with difference. The stories in his book, forged in the furnace of conflict, show how that is possible.
Michael T. McRay is a writer, facilitator, and storyteller, and the author of two previous books: Where the River Bends and Letters from Apartheid Street. He works with the global story nonprofit Narrative 4. He founded and hosts the public storytelling night Tenx9 Nashville, and occasionally lectures at Lipscomb University. McRay has a master’s degree in conflict resolution and reconciliation from Trinity College Dublin’s Belfast campus. He interned with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian city of Hebron in 2012. He has spoken in New York City, Seattle, Fort Worth, Malibu, Nashville, Belfast, and more, and he leads narrative retreats and speaks on story, conflict, reconciliation, and forgiveness. McRay and his wife Brittany live in Nashville, where they will soon welcome their first child. Connect with him @michaeltmcray or at MichaelMcRay.com.