012: John Noltner - On Storytelling as Connection

Book Cover

John and I met at a workshop that he led, sharing his project, a Peace of My Mind with an organization I've been a part of and love dearly, Youth Frontiers . At YF we are also in the business of sharing stories in order to help people understand the world differently, so the kinship between John's work and mine was natural.


On Storytelling as Connection:

History of a Peace of My Mind -

It was born out of John's frustration with the quality of the national dialogue. The focus on what separates us instead of what we share.  It is a series of portraits and stories based on the question, "What does peace mean to you?" - from more than 100 interviews, which has turned into a book and a traveling exhibit.

John is a storyteller through several lenses -

"We learn the most by reaching outside our comfort zone-by connecting on a human level with people we may feel we have nothing in common with." -John Noltner on @ThisMovedMe

Bud Welch Story: 

After the shooting at Sandy Hook, John wanted to interview someone who had been touched by a violent tragedy, but he wanted something with more time and perspective. So he was able to interview Bud Welch, who lost his only daughter in the Oklahoma City bombing. His life fell apart after the bombing, and he wanted nothing more than to get rid of Timothy McVeigh–until he saw an interview with Timothy McVeigh's father, who was as heartbroken as he was.

Bud realized that he got no sense of peace by the loss of one more life.

The Experience of the Exhibit:

It's a large exhibit, with 52 different stories. So how can we help people not feel overwhelmed, and to take it in thoughtfully?  So the exhibit guide treats it as a party, where you are meeting people.

How do you help people get over the sometimes touchy-feely idea of "peace"?

When people begin to study people's stories - and recognize the strength, the grit and the value of the collective stories.

Stories can lower our defenses, and connect people who might otherwise never bother to know one another.

John as Speaker:

As a photographer who was used to "hiding behind the camera" - he realized that if he wanted to bring this idea out into the world, he needed to get comfortable speaking.

Finding your Authority:

So, though John didn't feel like a "speaker" - he found his authority by making a mindshift, and finding the way in which he DID feel comfortable - which was as a "curator of stories."  He felt compelled to

Biggest Challenge of Speaking:

As a writer, John's focus on word choice led him to agonize over the script, and then agonized over

Process of Getting Off Script:

Memorizing was distracting, and he ended up not being fully present.

Then he shortened his script into notes; and then shortened his notes into an outline; and finally he got rid of it all. John had to remind himself that he knew these stories, and needed to trust himself to tell them.



John was reminded by a student that his stories had impact.  "I just needed to let you know that I needed to hear your words today."  When you can move someone, it makes you feel like all the work is worthwhile.


Mother Teresa said, "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."  I have three kids, life is crazy - and it was a reminder that we have to live it out in the small ways.  And this quote also brought me to a moment in the Peace of my Mind project : how are we living this in the day to day?

Go home and love your family.


To find out more about A Peace of My Mind, listen to their podcast, or read about some of these amazing stories - check out their website: http://apeaceofmymind.net/

You can also follow A Peace of My Mind on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Peace-of-My-Mind