Beyond a unique story
Do you believe in all the stories that others tell? How many times a day you spent checking information before verifying if it is true? Nowadays, it is not common to have a moment to reason. The conception of time is getting faster every day and societies do not stop growing, largely determined by the progress of technology. As Bauman philosopher said, these liquid societies are denying people their space to question, refute and reflect about all the inputs that we are influenced by because we are in a continuous movement. Even though it can lead to different problems, there is one in particular which can be very threatening for our communities: the danger of a single story.
Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, talked about this issue in a TED show in 2009 leaving no one indifferent. If we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding while we construct a wrong image. The consequence of its effect is directly reflected in our perceptions, on how we see the world and beyond that, on our ways of communication. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that the speech we believe in, it will be the same speech that we will give. When we tell stories, we have to be aware of the message we want to give about one person, group of people or even a country. It is necessary to use proper words to make accurate definitions. Our message will be a required tool for our listener since with it, we will create some specific image. Otherwise, the story or the image that someone gets, can be incomplete or communicate just the opposite. Usually, the single story has negative connotations and the narratives have become an identity maker, just like the stereotypes.
Figure 1: Chimamanda Adichie doing her speech in TED talks. 2009, TED. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
There are lots of examples of this kind of situations, but if we want to understand it easily, we have to think about how Africa is perceived. For many years, Africa has been treated as a country with starving victims, especially children, with flies on their faces. The image, which is showed by the country, is absolutely related to droughts and famine. Nonetheless, it does not happen only in certain media, the news has contributed to spread this vision and even some NGOs have used campaigns with pictures that do not have any respect for the dignity either the people or the country. Why are they not showing the awesome African landscapes, its universities, its markets, or the most important thing, the resilience of the people who have been hit by disasters over and over again?
Figure 2: Two of the most famous projections of the world map. 2014, Justo García Añón. Retrieved from: http://universo1eso.blogspot.com/2014/11/proeccion-de-peters-y-mercator.html
When we are telling a single story, we are not telling all the truth. Each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories and if you reduce people to one, you are taking away their chances to be more than what you know and beyond that, their humanity. In other words, if you only are capable of seeing African people as victims, you will not believe that these individuals can do something worthwhile, which is totally immoral. Everyone has potential that not to be missed and maybe we should start to think that it is our responsibility to establish a communication which appreciates the others’ qualities. Otherwise, the fact of explaining single stories defines which societies have the power and which do not have it. If we keep communicating, as usual, we will keep on making the same mistakes and promoting hatred.
A single story starts only with words that can be innocent, but it exists a possibility where the conception we have created turns into something harmful, for instance: the hate speech. The danger of a single story is not something that it has appeared today. In history, there are a lot of cases which warning us about the terrifying consequences of generating a single story based on provoking a negative impact on some group of people. With the support of the people, the hate speech develops into something bigger, capable of ending up in huge massacres as we could see in the past. Currently, we are not exempt from single stories translated to hate speeches. A large percentage of citizens from different societies are actually voting politicians who only speak about the differences between groups of people.
After having a wider view about the danger of a single story, it is essential to make all the efforts for fighting against it. We have to look after our words and endow people of the strengths that belong them. In this world, there is much more that unites each other than separate us.
By Carla Sala
Ngozi, C. [TED]. (2009, October 7). The danger of a single story. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg