Bjørn Ihler is a Norwegian activist, writer, designer, and filmmaker working across mediums to promote peace and human rights in defiance of violent extremism. A survivor of the 2011 attack on Utøya Island in Norway, Ihler works to promote an understanding of the influence design, narratives, and storytelling has on culture and how narratives can be transformed to build more peaceful societies. Ihler graduated from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in 2013 and is currently pursuing a master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies at Hacettepe University.
There is always HOPE with Bjørn Ihler #isharehope Episode 109
Summary: Bjørn’s answer to the five questions! Listen to the full conversation on the player above; also available on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.
Question 1: How do you define hope or what is your favorite quote about hope?
Those stories, it’s something that’s been part of shaping me and shaping my way of dealing with my own trauma and my own way of figuring out life. Everyone has a set of stories that shape their own lives. My question is how we can shape the stories that shape people’s lives to make people’s lives better.
Question 2: Who has shared the most hope with you?
There’s been a lot of very influential people in my life. My parents, in growing up and all my life. My philosophy teacher back in Norway, even though he grew up in basically a war zone, he knew that there were possibilities for humans to do something better. After the terrorist attack in Norway in 2011, he was actually one of the first people I called and one of the people who helped me out. When he first studied at Belgium, he was walking down the street with friends and a car backfired and he was lying on the ground flat instantly because that was his normal reaction. He told me the process of learning to know that it was okay with things like that and it’s a very long process. The hope that it’s possible to get beyond that, it’s possible to get beyond your instinctive reaction to violence and it’s possible to rationalize it and to learn to frame it in a different way where it can actually be something empowering or something you can use for something useful in your life.
Question 3: How have you used hope to make it through a difficult time in your life?
The most traumatic event in my life is the terrorist attack in 2011 which happened in Norway. There was a far right extremist who went out to the island where I was in summer camp and killed 69 of my friends and tried to kill me. He pointed his gun at me at one point and fired and the bullets flew straight past my head. At that point, I was absolutely thought I was going to die and I’ve been hiding along with two kids, eight and nine-year-olds whose parents were among the first people who were shot. That moment is so surreal. It came clear to me in a very short matter of time that this was probably was my last moment. It was surreal and strangely peaceful. I came to terms with it sort of, that it was the end and realizing that I had survived that was very difficult.
It was like a starting point because I’ve been given a new chance, but everything at that point was erased. Everything that had led up to this point in my life ended because I was so prepared for that to be the end. I’ve described that as my soul leaving my body in some way and my project, artwork has been piecing back together that soul. As part of that process, it’s been incredibly important to have little midgets of hope to hold on to – like the story from my professor. Another key element was back in 2014 which was years after the attack. I had met a man who had been in the terrorist’s shoes. He had been violent, he had attacked people and he had turned his life around completely and he was working against violent extremists and against hate. After meeting him, I have met several other people who have turned their lives around similarly. I’ve met incredible people who have been in incredible positions of hatefulness and violence and they have turned their lives around. I find something incredibly powerful and hopeful and inspiring in the fact that even these who have deprived other people of their humanity have been able to realize their own humanity and the humanity of people around them and have turned their lives around. If those people can do it, then we can do it.
There are extremes out there. There are incredibly hateful people, there are terrorists, there are people causing each other harm and violence every single day, but all of those people are human beings who can be moved on to this process and path of turning around from that hatred towards more love and more hope. I think that’s really inspiring.
Question 4: How are you sharing hope today?
What I’m doing is sharing my experiences and sharing my story. I speak to people, I meet with people, I talk to them. From my human perspective, that’s the most important thing anyone can do – it’s to meet each other as a human being and have a chat. I give a lot of talks at conferences and this summer I have been lucky enough to speak to a lot of young people around central Asia and Europe. It’s been inspiring to share my story and my experience of surviving a terrorist attack and living beyond that. What I always encourage people to do is really to be a better neighbor and grab a cup of tea with other people. Talk to people who are rather different from you. Realize that human beings are human beings and break down those barriers. I think the most important thing I do is to be human with other human beings and also teach people that that is something we need to do and something that we should do.
Question 5: How should I (the listener) begin to grow in hope or share hope today?
(1) Meet fellow human beings as fellow human beings and have tea with them. Tea is a great unifier.
(2) Be brave in the face of fear.