Senior Communication Major at Spring Arbor University
What an incredible feeling when someone asks you open-ended questions about your life, actively listening, asking follow-up questions and truly seeking to understand you. This is sadly such a rare experience for some that they feel uneasy, not knowing how to properly respond. On the contrary, it is frustrating when someone assumes false things about you, or when he or she thinks they grasp the whole of who you are, only knowing a small part. On an interpersonal level, this is the idea of believing a single story about someone, ignoring the hundreds of other stories that form their identity.
TED Talk speaker Chimamanda Adichie addresses the issue of a single story on a more widespread level, that often what we hear in mainstream media about a certain demographic or ethnic group becomes all we know and believe about that group. For example, as a Nigerian, Chimamanda has experienced Americans who only know a single story about Africans – poor, disadvantaged, starving, ridden with AIDS. She artfully expresses that while this narrative exists, there are many other stories about Africans, and in fact there is incredible diversity of all kinds within the continent. Chimamanda reminds us that she is also guilty of believing a single story, at one time believing only the illegal immigration story about all Mexicans.
This is a crucial perspective for our class, Writing for the Media, because all writing is in some way a story. When we write a press release, when we write a script, when we write the “About Us” on a website, we are in fact telling a story. In addition, it can be argued that all writing is in some way persuasion, and as Chimamanda reminds us, we are very vulnerable when listening to a story. This should remind all writers of the ethical responsibility we have when presenting any kind of writing. Chimamanda helpfully points out that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true (most of the time, they are based on some truth), but that they are incomplete.
As writers, we need to remind readers of this, presenting an issue as complex and multi-faceted instead of one-sided. In addition to pointing out differences, writers can build bridges and make points of connection. Writers need to remember their power, and refrain from making one story the definitive story on an issue or group. In addition, when writers observe what is being said in mainstream media, we need to be willing to challenge and confront issues in different ways, exploring new possibilities instead of assuming the single story of mainstream media.
When we believe a single story, or write a single story without acknowledging others, we “flatten” experience and overlook other narratives. Just like we would not want someone to pick out one thing about us as an individual and define us by that thing alone, let us as writers refuse to do that to others.
Here is Chimamanda Adichie’s actual TED Talk, which I highly recommend!
Image from http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.