Imagine sitting in an audience and listening to the story of a journalist who was literally shot in the face with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) in Afghanistan and lived to talk about it. The entire audience sits in awe, listening intently full of empathy ready to hear his experience. This is what it’s like when Carmen Gentile, journalist and author of Blindsided by the Taliban speaks. His book made the top 10 best-sellers in biographies of journalists and the Kindle version was ranked second among Afghan War History titles. I got to talk with Carmen recently and get to know him and his story, and more importantly, the impact he is having and wants to have on the world.
Carmen’s story is both unbelievable and universal. It is highly unlikely any of us will be shot in the face with a rocket, but we all have struggles and those struggles change who we are forever. After talking with Carmen and hearing his story of struggle, life, and purpose, I couldn’t help but see the common thread in all of it – empathy.
Living Small in a Big World
Too many people live in their own small world while actually living in a larger one. This goes for your thinking as well as your physical location. I remember Carmen telling me how after his 4 surgeries, he went back to Afghanistan 6 more times. I questioned why he continued to risk his life to bring back stories that would otherwise go untold, he said his role was to help people become more engaged citizens of the world. He remembers leaving Afghanistan and getting on the plane and thinking, “I can just get on a plane with food and comfort while the people here sit on dirt floors without the resources we so take for granted.” He has formed a unique perspective as a journalist by traveling between entirely different lifestyles and cultures.
Having a global view changes your perspective. I asked Carmen what he thinks of the internet in light of being a journalist and what he sees is the huge potential of the internet to tell compelling stories. Sadly, what he finds more often is a media outlet for selective ignorance. People can now surround themselves with content that is tailored to their views and simultaneously be void of external or global perspectives. This often sustains a lack of awareness and critical thinking.
We are more connected now than ever before, yet the average person’s worldview is very small. The great power of empathy can’t be triggered until people are touched by stories outside their worldview and it is empathy, more than technology, that connects the world. This is one of the things that drives Carmen to be a war reporter and world traveler.
Becoming a Good Citizen of Humanity
Living in an echo chamber of small views is robbing people of becoming global citizens. As technology connects the world, the need for diverse thinking increases. If we don’t know what other people are going through, we can’t empathize with them. If we don’t empathize with them, we won’t care and we won’t understand our connection to all of humanity. One of the keys to righting the wrongs of the world is awareness. As the saying goes, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.
World events affect us now more than ever. As politics rage on, your awareness and worldview start to have real consequences for yourselves and others. Carmen wants everyone to be more aware, to have a broader view, and be engaged in humanity. It is from the empathy and understanding of others that we can make better choices for everyone. Journalism has always been a way to educate and inform people and Carmen takes that responsibility seriously.
The Sacred Responsibility to Tell Stories
Once you hear a story it becomes part of you. I remember one of the amazing things Carmen said when I asked him what impact he wanted to have on the world. He said he was part of the sacred responsibility of telling stories. That made me pause. I had never thought about how profound the right to tell stories was. Until the internet, telling stories has for the most part been done by only a select few in society. Culture, inspiration, expression, and humanity is told through stories in every culture. These stories change the way people think, feel, and view the world and it is a high responsibility to tell them.
The internet is full of content, but few have labored for and lived it. As I asked him how his voice could be heard in an oversaturated content ocean, he said, “When I get a room full of people I have their attention and I have beat all the media out there. That is when I tell my story. My story may be unique but it is not uncommon, because everyone has gone through some kind of adversity.” His book Blindsided by the Taliban has touched the lives of many people from all around the globe. He cannot be as he told me, “A spectator of life with no impact.” He continues to put himself in harm’s way to bring the world stories they would never hear and to create better citizens of humanity. Book Carmen to hear his stories live and in-person at your next event.