Chimamanda Adichie, a writer, argues that if we just hear one tale about another person, we risk a major misconception. She calls this problem "the danger of a single story."
Adichie uses the example of Nelson Mandela to make her point. Many people know only one side of the former South African president: the image of him as a prisoner on Robben Island or at Victor Verster Prison. They believe that he was only able to become president because he was given a chance to do so by the government, when in fact he was denied this right and had it taken away from him.
By hearing only one story about Mandela, he would have been unable to become president because they would have seen him as a criminal who needed to be punished. Instead, he spent 18 years in prison for fighting against the government during apartheid, which left him with many scars but also inspired him to fight for equal rights for all South Africans.
"The danger of a single story is that it can distort our view of history and other people's views of us," says Adichie. "It can cause us to think that things should happen a certain way or that someone must want them to happen that way.
Chimamanda Adichie's TED Talk Our lives, our civilizations, are made up of many intertwined stories. Chimamanda Adichie, the novelist, relates the tale of how she discovered her own cultural voice—and warns us that if we just hear one story about another person or place, we risk a crucial mistake. In this important talk, she explains that there are dangers in living by one story out of many.
She begins by telling the story of when she was young and went to see The Lion King with some friends. During the show, she recalls, someone yelled "Sit down! You're sitting on my seat!" She laughed at the time, but now realizes that this simple joke has profound implications. It reminded her of how easy it is to misjudge other people's feelings, and also of how important it is for us to listen to each other even when we have different stories going on inside our heads.
Adichie then goes on to discuss several other stories that she says have influenced her thinking over time: the story of an innocent woman who was accused of witchcraft and killed in Nigeria today; the story of George Washington, whose life was written by his enemies; the story of Harriet Tubman, who helped liberate many slaves. She concludes by saying that these are only a few examples of many other stories out there, most of which we know only through hearsay. She urges us to keep an open mind and not to judge others based on what we think we know.
According to Adichie, what is hazardous about the single tale is not its existence, but the way we fall victim to ignorance. If you only know one story, you will always believe the same story about other people's actions and not be able to understand why they do what they do.
People who live in single-story societies are prone to making judgments about others based on a single incident. For example, if a friend of yours dies, it might cause you to think less of someone you've never met before. Or, if a famous person commits a crime, it could cause you to judge the average person for doing something similar.
Because we only know one story, we cannot understand other people's actions. This leads us to make assumptions about their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Then, we use this information to decide what kind of person they are. In other words, we judge them based on a single story.
If you want to avoid making judgments about others, then you should learn more than one story about them. This will help you understand what makes them act the way they do and allow you to make more accurate assessments of their character.
Stereotypes are formed by a single tale, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are false, but that they are incomplete. They turn one narrative into the sole one.
Nigeria, Enugu Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie/Birthplace
A single tale, or one point of view, has the danger of leading us to make default assumptions, conclusions, and actions that are insufficient and may lead to misinterpretation. Working within the confines of a single tale might impede us from gaining a more detailed, nuanced understanding of a situation.
Adichie emphasizes that if we only hear about a person, location, or circumstance from one perspective, we run the risk of embracing that experience as the entire reality. "The single tale generates preconceptions, and the problem with stereotypes is that they are incomplete, not false," Adichie explains in the video. "If I tell you about a Nigerian prince who can speak English, but I have never heard him do so myself, would you say he's a liar? Of course not. He's just limited by his circumstances."
To illustrate how we interpret experiences based on our own perspectives, Adichie uses the example of a single tree. She notes that since most people don't climb trees for a living, they likely view the tree as valuable for its fruit or timber. A tree farmer, however, knows that the tree is more than just wood or apples, because he makes a point to include all aspects of the tree in his business plan.
"So many people think that stories are just made up things that happen to people. But stories are not fake; they are real. They are how we make sense of life," says Adichie. "A story is a model for how to live and love. It gives us guidelines for morality and ethics. The artist creates stories to express ideas and values. And when stories are told and retold, they become part of society's history and culture."
Adichie thinks that narratives have power, which she defines as the ability to not just convey another person's experience, but to make it the canonical story of that individual. A good narrative has the power to persuade and influence people even after it is told. A great narrative has the power to change people's lives.
She also believes that stories are vital for society to function properly. They help us understand what is important in life and why we should pursue certain goals. Without these common understanding and guidance from stories, humanity would be left at a loss of how to act toward one another and would fall back on violence when necessary.
As a storyteller herself, Adichie wants readers to believe that stories can heal and transform individuals and societies. Through her own stories and those of other women writers, she hopes to show how common experiences can lead to happiness, wisdom, and strength.
A single tale, or one point of view, has the danger of leading us to make default assumptions, conclusions, and actions that are insufficient and may lead to misinterpretation. For example, if I were to tell only my side of an argument, others would be left with no knowledge of the other perspective, which could lead them to make incorrect decisions based on incomplete information.
Taking this a step further, if I were to tell only one story about something that happened, that would leave others to interpret what happened along with the facts that I know about the situation. This could cause problems for me or others in future situations where we need to make quick decisions about things like friends or business partners; we can't afford to make mistakes due to lack of information.
Finally, if I were to tell only one story about something that many people did, that would mislead others into thinking that this is all there is to know about the event. In reality, there are often many more stories that have not been told, which could change our understanding of what happened.
These are just some examples of the dangers of telling only one story.