Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories are how we make sense of our experiences. For each of us individually we have a multitude of stories. We know this and yet, it is easy to default to a single story when we think of another culture, another region, another country or even another political party – as is the current danger in many countries including the US. This leads us to more fragmentation and polarization and makes it harder to be open to the complexities that are true of any individual, culture, region or country.
In her July 2009 TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, Nigerian author and story teller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, offers that stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. They can be used to empower and to humanize. They have been used to break a people and they can be used to restore dignity.
A single story robs people of their dignity, it makes recognition of equal humanity difficult and it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Some of our greatest learning comes from people the least like us.
For each of us, an impression will arrive in a nano-second at the consideration of any of these words (or others): America, Canada, France, Europe, Africa, man, woman, child, immigrant, refugee, Brexit. The lines that enter our heads are often of a single story, easily and quickly told. And this single story does not capture the whole of the story. Ngozi Adichie speaks of how she bristles when people describe Africa as a country. It is not a country. It is a continent full of countries. There is not one singular African experience, just like there is not one singular American or Canadian or European experience.
She also shares how we significantly change the story depending on what we identify as the starting point. When we start the story at “secondly”, as in, when we start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans not with the arrival of the Europeans, we have an entirely different story. When the story starts with the failures of the African States and not with the colonialization of the African States, we have an entirely different story. Starting point matters.
Focusing on negative stories flattens the experience of individuals, cultures and countries. It ignores the totality of the things that have shaped them. A single story is not untrue, but it is not complete.
Power lies with the people who tell the story about another. Showing a people as a single story creates a power imbalance that can only be brought back into balance by sharing and examining the multiplicity of stories that are also true – the “ands” rather than the either/or’s. And, different versions of the same story is not a multitude of stories.
Worldview Intelligence asks that we invite a multiplicity of stories to exist in the same space. One story does not negate another story – individually, culturally, region wise, in a country. The many stories make visible the interweave of all that is true, of all that influences how someone, or a culture, has come to see and experience the world the way they do.
It is only in opening up our willingness to see this multitude of stories that we will learn from each other, connect with each other and find ways forward that do not currently seem to exist.
In the words of a very good friend and colleague, Lemoine Lapointe, “we have forgotten how to visit with each other.” It is time to visit again with our neighbours with curiosity, compassion and an open mind, open heart and open spirit – not to negate our own worldview or even to change it, but to allow for an expansion that leads to the possibilities of the very different experiences that have shaped we are – individually and collectively – today.