Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Danger of a Single Story

TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story--
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about powerThere is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is 'nkali'. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on powerPower is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."

She makes me think about a saying I really love --"when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." We as human beings forget the role that perspective plays in this world. And also, most don't really understand the danger in storytelling that is (often intentionally) not representative or accurate. I find western society to be predominately fear-based. Not only does this fear isolate people from authentic human connection, but it reinforces a resistance to what is not like them. Where these two issues meet is the most dangerous recipe of all. That is, when people rely on a news channel, or social media group to get stories, condition their own beliefs accordingly and also not ever venture into the world of a stranger. And quite frankly, if you never leave your town, then how will you know what the world is really like? I suppose blind faith in movie scripts and news channels is your only option if that's the case. 

Language is a massively underrated tool of power. The same story can be told, hitting all the same facts and points, but depending on the storyteller, words and framing can be manipulated to produce stories that paint starkly different pictures . We must consider always with everything we hear: Who is telling the story? What are their self-interests in this story? What is motivating them tell it? What are their identity and beliefs ? What are they trying to convince me of? Why? 

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I'm entitled to disagree with it. And I do think certain lenses are more righteous than others. To take one opinion, listen to one story, watch one movie, meet one person, and use that to apply it to a larger group is problematic. You will be left with a narrow-minded view of the world. This is the thinking, or lack of thinking rather, which fuels discrimination and stereotypes of any kind.

This sort of storytelling is especially impressionable upon youth, as they are still constructing their beliefs about the world, it is important that professionals working with youth are self-aware of their own identities and also resist to stereotypes of youth populations. Understanding someone's authentic story, as told by them, is worth its weight in gold. 

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