What do you think when you hear the following?
What are the images that play in your head when you hear any of these words? What comes to mind? It’s likely that no matter how worldly and open -minded you are, at least one stereotype came to mind. We, well, most of us, anyway, have all been guilty of pigeon holing people, applying a label, and calling it done.
In her Ted talk watched by more than 10,000,000 people, Nigerian novelist, short story and nonfiction writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of “the danger of a single story.”
While stereotypes often bear a grain of truth in them , when we believe we know a place or a people and can identify them based only on one facet, we do them a disservice and ourselves as well. The danger isn’t, as she says, “that a stereotype is untrue, but that it is incomplete.”
Expand this idea, and apply it across the board. Sometimes it is easier to believe that you have the measure of a person, a place, a situation from the single story you know. Challenge yourself to go beyond, and to find out the rest of the stories before you accept the idea that you know something. It shapes your reaction, and for the better.
I once, years ago, taught in a largeish manufacturing company. I had a small group of students and, separately, a 1-1 class with a director. I really liked both classes, but the students in the small group could not believe that I liked teaching the boss, too. He was a hard boss, fairly unforgiving, they said, and generally tough to work with. That was their single story of him.
On the other hand, I had a great time with him, liked his company and found teaching him a rewarding experience. He was a complete beginner, but was unafraid of trying to speak and communicate and have fun and make a bit of a fool of himself, in the interest of learning to use English. I got to know his wife, his dog, and he even gave me my first laptop, back in the day. I thought he was a great guy. I was lucky to have heard the other students’ story of him, and to be able to compare it to my own, and felt like I had been able to get know him that little bit better for it.. 2 stories, even separate, conflicting stories, are better than 1 .
Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk in it’s entirety here
- Pigeon hole- classify or categorize in only one way
- Largeish- “-ish” is a suffix that means “in the manner or style of”
- Back in the day- in the past