“KNOWLEDGE THAT TAKES YOU NOT BEYOND YOURSELF, IS FAR WORSE THAN IGNORANCE.”
First of all I’d like to thank TED Talks for gathering some of the greatest thinkers and the spreading of important ideas. Specifically, I’d like to thank Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for inspiring me to write this article and to tell this story. I’ll undoubtedly be addressing some of her insights for this post. Thanks again Chimamanda.
I watched Chimamanda’s Ted Talk about the single story, and I saw so many parallels in myself and in my life as well as how I’ve been looked at and described as well as how I’ve addressed and thought of others in my own rather shortsighted thinking. I think we all tend to buy in to these over simplifications of each other, and while some of those descriptions may be true, there is always more. No one and no group of people can be characterized by only one or two or even three descriptors. We are way too complex for that.
The problem with the “Single story” is that if it’s repeated enough, and especially if it’s propagated by the media it seems to become the gospel in our minds. It becomes the default perception or point of view about people, their habits, the way they live and their beliefs. We usually use these very limiting accounts of each other to complete a very incomplete picture. Then of course some of these turn into accepted stereotypes, either widely or just among ourselves. My point is that stereotypes aren’t necessarily wrong, Moreover, they are incomplete, they don’t tell the complete story. When we give in to the “Single Story” or stereotypes it becomes hard for us to pierce the mental veil of seeing people as they truly are since we’ve already prejudged what they’re all about.
As I see it, stereotypes are harmful because they highlight our differences making people less than equal. Generally, these “Single Stories” are used only to cast indignities and insults upon others. These are used to separate us instead of uniting us which is what we really need.
One of the reasons that I decided to write this piece is that I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone else. Here’s an example of one of my past personal bouts with ignorance: A few years ago I was talking with a few coworkers and one of them was from Mexico. His home country came up in the conversation, and I found myself regurgitating snippets of what I’d heard from the news. Now at this time the only thing that was on the news about Mexico were immigration reform, border drug wars and kidnapping. This particular week the media had chosen the drug wars as the definitive Mexico that they wanted to represent to the entire world. I mentioned something half jokingly about being apprehensive about traveling to Mexico because of those troubles. The comments made by me really had no relevance to the conversation whatsoever. I think I was just trying to be funny by taking a jab at an entire country, at someone’s national identity, someone’s source of pride.
My coworker was livid and in my fog of ignorance and insensitivity I couldn’t really understand why. I get it now. While my coworker may have been angry (and rightfully so) for multiple reasons, I didn’t even think about the other 99.9 percent of happenings in that country that we don’t hear about on a daily basis. What about all of the good things that happen there? What about the warmness of the people, the beautiful country or the culture and traditions? I guess that doesn’t make very good news.
While it is true that we are all have minor distinctions, we are much more alike than we are different. We need much more love, compassion, and empathy toward each other going forward.
That is all