The Danger of a Single Story


As we begin to wind down the academic year, I wanted to share a Ted Talk that I have thought about a lot over the last year.  The talk is by the noted author Chimamanda Adichie, and is titled “The Danger of a Single Story.”  You can find it here.

 Adichie believes that stories matter, but that all too often in our lives we operate from the perspective of hearing and knowing a single story — about a person, a situation, or perhaps a conflict.  And that we operate from the perspective of the single story unconsciously.  The risk of the single story, the one perspective, is that it can lead us to default assumptions, conclusions and decisions that may be incomplete, and may lead to misunderstanding.  Operating from the context of a single story can prevent us from a more complex, nuanced view of a situation.

Adichie also makes a connection between single stories and the impact of power in our lives. In any situation, who tells the story, how and when, can impact situations greatly. The way we make sense of situations leads to narratives that may be harmful if left unexamined. Power enables some to define individuals and situations from a particular lens.

As Adichie says, single stories can have significant negative impact. They can rob people of their dignity, and emphasize how we are different rather than how we are similar.  At its core, this talk encourages us to recognize how much stories matter.  And that by giving space to hear a multitude of stories we can help to empower and humanize others.

I hope you’ll find this talk as thought provoking as I did.  While it runs 19 minutes, it helps remind me of the importance of openness to others’ lived experiences.