Something to think about: The Danger of a Single Story

This post has been looming around in my draft folder for a while as i’ve been wondering what to do with it. Also partly because I feel I am trying to reach a medium between posting because I genuinely want to and not because I feel I have too. But that’s something i’m working on.

Anyhow,

I watched a TedTalk recently which I found through an online course on gender development I have been taking. The talk is titled ‘The danger of a Single Story’ and it’s by Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found it very thought-provoking and couldn’t help but agree with more or less everything she was saying.

In short, she basically talks about how we often create and consume one single story about a particular thing, that could be an ethnic group or a particular age group for example, and she further explores how dangerous and I agree, small minded doing this can be.

Anyway, before I go any further here’s the video so you can see it for yourself:

In the course we were asked to consider the following points;

  • what happens when we reduce complex societies to simple stereotypes, to a single narrative.
  • her argument that this approach, where complexity is reduced to a simple narrative, distorts our perceptions of others

Watching the Ted Talk not only made me realize, but also reminded me of how prominent stereotypes actually are in not only our minds but also in society as a whole. I think humans are very judgmental in nature, and I don’t necessarily mean that we make these judgements with cruel intentions but that it is often a subconscious act. Our opinions on people are shaped by the media from a very early age. The media seems to create an idea of a place or a person, which might be in their vested interest, made for biased reasons, or just for an easy way to categorize. And then consequently the audiences consuming this media gain a single story of a much wider picture. Religious, ethnic groups and the variety of cultures in existence, are an example of the abundantly different ways that people live around the world, and instead of emphasis being placed on understanding and accepting these different societies, they are too often simplified to having one single meaning.

And this of course is very dangerous as Chimamanda said, as an unclear vision of the world is implemented into people’s heads. And these images are repeated again and again, through word of mouth, the socialisation of children, and are of course helped along through media consumption, literature and politics. They become the dominant story in our heads. And the truth remains under wraps and is known on a much smaller scale.

Stereotyping is a form of shorthand, an easier way of categorizing people. But does this mean stereotyping is used because the media is too lazy to paint the bigger picture? Or does the media enable the public to identify national identities on a much simpler scale because our brains cannot cope with retaining the biggest, and most realistic depiction of the truth?

How can we combat single stories?

There is part of me that thinks single stories may never be resolved. I think the media, authority, political parties etc. is/ and are continuously aiming to consolidate the public’s views on the world to the point that they may unfortunately never stop. It’s quite a tricky thing to think about really because how do we know that without these other factors, as humans we still wouldn’t create these ill-informed ideas about things? But then you can argue back and say that without the media’s ability to reach audiences in the first place, for example, we wouldn’t necessarily know about immigration problems etc.

But I do also think that with greater awareness on the issue of single stories and informing people on a wider level, especially from a young age, that not everything you read is true, along with encouragement to research further and learn about things for ourselves, would help prevent single single stories being created in the first place. As a media student I was taught from day one that not everything you read is true. The public is becoming more aware of so-called ‘fake news’ now though, so that is some progress.

Reducing societies to simple stereotypes creates divides and subsequently limits our understanding of the world around us. I hope for a time in the future when we can go beyond these close-minded mentalities and concentrate on making the world a better place, without unjust and ill-informed constraints.

As always, thank you for reading!

And please feel free to leave your thoughts below in the comments section!

 

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