(To turn the subtitles on, move your cursor over the screen and click on the drop down which says ‘4 languages’ and choose English.)
We all know the danger of the single story. If you’re a writer, or a a journalist, you know that there is more than one way to tell a story – from whose viewpoint, from what angle, or which subject matter you are choosing to write about. For example, there is more than one way of looking at the story of deafness. It is a culture and history rich with different layers, different people, different ways of being.
There is no one way to be deaf, just as there is no one way to be English, or Scottish or, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, Nigerian or African. Here, she makes the point that we in the UK and US often tend to see one story surrounding something, fed to us by the media or government and culture, which then becomes ‘common belief’. Our ideas are often grounded in social and cultural values, and whilst some of us choose to challenge these ideas and beliefs, others stick to them.
To find the bigger and more interesting stories, it is more important to challenge these beliefs. Why do the media and government collude in thinking the worst of people who claim benefits? Why are women considered frivolous or somehow less than men? Why are men the default? Once you start asking questions, you can start seeing a bigger picture and go deeper under the surface of ideas. To pick at the roots of things is more interesting than hovering above the surface and seeing one story that you want to stick to because there aren’t enough contesting stories.
This is why it is important to write and tell as many different stories as we can about different things. You get a sense of expansive experience from knowing these different stories. You start to understand that there are many different ways of being. This is why it is difficult for people to understand, for example, that there is more than one narrative surrounding being deaf. They have received their education from popular knowledge, and not from the blogs, articles, stories and writings of deaf people themselves, which would show the variety of experience.
There is danger in seeing one narrative about something. Adichie explains that it is about power, and the power of how we use those stories. If a government, and policy-makers hold only one story of what it is to be deaf, or disabled or poor, or young or black, then we will continue a cycle of oppression. There will be little change. Assumptions will continue. We must carry on telling more than one story about places, about ways of being, about our lives. Read as widely as possible. Challenge your perceptions. Look at memoir – there are many possible ways of telling someone’s story. What angle will you choose?
‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.