Recently a friend emailed me a YouTube video of Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s talk entitled The Dangers of a Single Story. I have read one of her books and remember her coming to my area a few years ago to speak.
It’s a long video – 20 minutes – but so worth it.
The title led me to think it was about the fears of only having one story in us as writers, but I was so wrong. Her message is amazing. She means that it is dangerous to view a person or group of people as only having one single story. An important message on Valentine’s Day.
I’ll illustrate with an example from my own life.
The summer before my first year in college I learned the name of my new roommate and looked up her picture in the facebook sent out to all incoming students. I couldn’t wait to meet her. I was sure she would be my first real college friend.
She wanted nothing to do with me. She didn’t talk to me. Even though we had made the same friends in our house (I went to a college with houses, not dorms), she ignored me. I didn’t know what I had done or said to cause that reaction and none of our mutual friends were able to enlighten me.
Sometime that fall, I found myself in a sophomore’s room, laughing with my roommate and a bunch of friends, a couple of whom happened to be gay. Later that week, I found out that my roommate was gay.
Okay, so this didn’t change anything for me. I didn’t care who she felt attracted to. She still didn’t talk to me and I still didn’t know why.
Time passed. One day I went into the senior’s room across the hall and plopped onto her bed while she watched video of rats (she was a behavioral biology student doing thesis research).
“Things are better between you and Roommate, aren’t they?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, we’ve actually been talking and hanging out.”
“She came in here earlier, shouted, ‘I love my roommate’ and left again,” the senior said.
I grinned. I finally had the friendship I had imagined all summer.
Why had she avoided me for the first month or so? She had taken one look at my picutre in the facebook and decided that I was a stuck-up priss who would hate her for being gay. So she decided to hate me first. You see, she saw me as only having one story, a prissy, gay-hating story (which wasn’t even true).
This is what people often do. We make snap judgments about people based on what they look like, or what we’ve heard about them, and we don’t always give them a chance to show us their real selves. Governments do this when they marginalize certain countries or parts of the world, or in deciding who gets aid and who doesn’t.
The dangers of seeing only a single story are real and can be applied in so many ways – our writing, meeting new friends, in business. How will you apply this information in your own life? Please tell me in the comments.