Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Danger of a Single Story

I've learned an important lesson from Chimamanda Adichie.

She is a novelist who spoke at one of the TED conventions about "The Danger of a Single Story." I was told that I should watch it because I was teaching a pop culture class and I'm glad I did. But the lessons I've learned stretch far beyond the information I needed for that class.

Watch it here. Now.

We are limited when we are only being sold one narrative. When we can only see one point of view (that reminds me of this other TED Talk about how when ten people enter the same word in a Google search, we'll get ten different pages. The internet is catering to what it "thinks" we need thus eliminating views that contradict our own).

Adichie mentions how when most people think of Africa they imagine beautiful landscapes and incomprehensible poverty, wars, and AIDS. This is the "single story" we are being sold about what it means to be from Africa. However, it's not true. It doesn't tell the whole story.

I used the ideas from this video in my pop culture class to talk about how advertising only tells us one story. Usually it's the story of the rich, thin, and famous. About sex and the high-life. About airbrushing and Photo Shop. We are not able to see behind the curtain into how these people got rich, thin, and famous. Are their lives really so glamorous? We rarely see the pre-Photo Shopped images for a reason: advertising thrives on selling us a single story. It's a fiction and we think it's reality.

I've been thinking about this "single story" idea in my own life. My single story would be: white, American, middle-class, female, well-educated, happy, put-together, confident, and talented. But the full story is deeper and more complex. We are not only the boxes we check on census forms. We have full stories that reach beyond our sex, our weight, and our country of origin.

Facebook is King of the single story. We only post pictures of happy times, cruises, graduations, birthday parties, and picnics at the park. I'm not recommending we show pictures of funerals, car crashes, burnt macaroni, and slobbery tears. However, the internet gives us a platform to only spread the information we want to be seen. The story we want to be told.

Jeremy and I often talk about what a "good" relationship looks like and what we want for ours. We sometimes look at other people's relationships to know if we're doing all right. So, often we see two people in love, holding hands, working, playing, celebrating holidays, going on adventures, and living the "good life." So naturally we feel like incapable bums when sometimes...our lives look nothing like that. We don't agree. We argue. We don't see eye-to-eye and frankly, we don't want to.

I've never seen my parents fight. Disagreements are natural, human. And when I look at my own relationship struggles, they seem out of context and somehow wrong because they don't resemble what I've seen in movies or in real life.

I got home last night and my sister Ashley shared with me some of the ins and outs of her marriage. They are so happy and fit so well together, yet, they're human and sometimes they disagree. What a relief!

What I find time and time again whether by sharing my own story or hearing others' is this: most of the time we are in the majority of people struggling, but there are only a minority of people talking about it.

I'd like to see those flip-flopped. I want to tell a bigger story. One that includes
love and disdain,
five-course meals and cereal on a Wednesday night,
picnics at the park and rainy days indoors,
afternoons of laughter and afternoons of boredom,
life-changing conversations and other times when the conversation sits stagnant and awkward because we're both unwilling to compromise.

I want to tell a complete story that's real and complex and messy and true.


Emily said...

Thanks for reality. It's truly the good life.

Anthony said...

I saw this vid. It was good. I also liked how you personalized it as a filter through which to see your own story. Thanks for the perspective.