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High Profile Magazine

The Incomplete, Single Story

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” I recently came across this quote on an Instagram post and it’s been vexing my mind, particularly given the diversity and inclusion focus of this month’s issue. Could it be that the reason inclusion is still a hot button issue today is because we’ve neglected to be kind, and must have rules and policies dictating how we behave, relate and talk to each other in different social, political and economic spaces?

For instance, in my country, many women are terrified of vying for political seats. I mean, the rough and tumble characteristic of the campaigns is outrageous especially given that insults and labels thrust upon the female aspirants by their male counterparts and majority of the electorate is often part of the package of running for public office. In many cases, such women are labelled loose, unmarriable, manly and disrespectful; never mind that some of them are very good daughters, friends, wives and mothers. Their stories, facts and real background in most cases are clouded by the rumours, online trolling and propaganda that are common in our issue-deficient, yet narrative-led political discourse.

It’s amazing how people are experts in judging others. How we conjure up opinions about lives we’ve not lived; places we’ve not been; and it’s always funny until we’re the ones on the receiving end. When trolling others online and taking the low road on issues affecting other people’s lives, we’re really just exercising freedom of speech until we become the subject of discussion or people close to us and then all of a sudden, we become advocates for people to mind their own business; to live and let live.

Maybe next time, before engaging in public discourse where people’s personal lives are concerned, we should have at the fore of our minds that the more than 7 billion people in the world are unique and deserve dignity, regardless of the fodder of discussion about them in the public domain. More importantly, is that their lives are made up of many stories, both negative and positive; happy and sad; adventurous and unexciting; bold and cowardly; good and bad, all of which we’re not privy to. Nobody’s life should be reduced to a single photo, a single post, a single tweet, a single story!

On the TedTalk website is a list of the 25 most popular talks of all time. On this list is my all-time favourite talk by accomplished author and storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with over twenty-seven million views. It is called “The danger of a single story.” In her speech, she candidly describes different instances in her life when she was exposed to only one story about certain people and places and how that created a distorted perception of her reality with regards to these subjects. Knowing just one story about these subjects left her to fill in the other parts with assumptions, extrapolations and generalisations, never facts.

I don’t blame her. I have been there myself and I know you probably have too. We’ve all likely fallen to the trap of pre-analysing and trying to understand people we’ve never met or interacted with through stereotyping. Is going out of our way to research beyond the predominant narrative about them really that difficult? Chimamanda aptly hammers the crux of her talk when she says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they’re untrue, but that they’re incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

When the story of your life is discussed, would you rather a lopsided judgement based on this one time you messed things up or didn’t live up to society’s expectations; just one story in the anthology of stories that are your life or would you rather people were kind, because they knew nothing about all the other stories where you in fact are the hero, not the villain?