Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Danger of a Single Story

It seems to me that many of our biases stem from a single story -  or maybe the opposite is true. When we limit ourselves and our understanding to one narrative, we limit the depths to which we can be fully known and can fully know someone else. All of us live a life of multiple stories, layers of complex experiences and opportunities that define who we are, what we think and how we live our lives. To limit the telling of these stories is to remove a part of ourselves – to underestimate the person to whom we are relating.

When we allow ourselves to be defined by a single story, we hold ourselves back. But single stories are also a way to limit the opportunity of others and to hold them back from being all they can be – whether intentional or not. By limiting others to a single narrative, a single, simple understanding of who they are and of the richness of their life experiences, is to effectively reduce them to something less, something inferior, to turn them into something they are not and to allow our power to tower over them.

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes the Danger of a Single Story in a talk that is both inspiring and challenging. The challenge for all of us to take a moment and look beyond the surface and to consider why we limit our understanding of others – why we see only a single story. By asking ourselves “why,” we can begin to recognize the implicit (and maybe explicit) biases that drive these narratives. Bias is ubiquitous and not inherently bad, it only becomes so when we allow it to drive our thinking in a manner that is detrimental to others and ourselves. Consider being a little more empathetic, a little more observant and a lot more reflective on how you perceive the person in front of you… if you are limiting them to a single story, ask yourself why.

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