The Power of Stories: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Stories, whether verbal or written, are a big part of our psychology and have impact very early on in our lives. Chimamanda Adichie in her Ted Talk discusses "The Danger of the Single Story" and how impressionable we are in the face of it.

I have remarked generally on society's fascination with fitting people into boxes to categorize them without attempting to understand them.  For whatever reason, people oftentimes miss nuance or do not seek deeper context and base their judgment of a person on a single story.  Adichie (2009) states,"show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become."  She adds that discussions about the single story without addressing power is impossible. "[S]tories too are defined by the principle of nkali ["to be greater than another"]: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power" (Adichie, 2009).

In thinking about the stories being told today around issues impacting women/gender, minority ethnic/racial groups, the LGBTQ community etc., it is clear that many of those with privilege fail to consider their power when telling the stories of another.  Even further, they do not willingly avail themselves of more context in the interest of changing the narrative because for many, acknowledging a level of privilege, of power, in a tangible way also represents the risk of losing it. According to Burke (2016), "[e]ven the most well-intended, self-aware person struggles with the mere mention of relinquishing their privilege because they mainly see it as a sacrifice on behalf of someone else...", but I would also add that they see it as losing ground, status, or position because maintaining status quo maintains the balance of power.

Adichie (2009) explains that single stories robs people of their dignity, makes recognizing our equal humanity difficult, and emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Telling single stories concentrates power amongst a group or class member rather than empowering everyone fairly in the interest of 'equal humanity' (Adichie, 2009).  As the saying goes, "when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression," thus, maintaining the single story narrative of another is paramount because for the teller, the lie of their own story is better than the truth and the truth about privilege is that you do not have to do anything to get it, it just exists.  If one’s identity or self-worth is attached to their privilege, subconsciously or unconsciously, accepting the reality of it is probably a huge blow to the ego. 

But there is hope for the bruised ego’s loss of hegemony when faced with the truth of their single story, because "many stories matter," Adichie (2009) closes.  "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" (Adichie, 2009).

It is important to give space to the many untold stories yet to be shared or received, both past and stories presently unfolding. A world of many stories bridges the gap between people, helps humanity evolve, and helps us heal.


References

  1. Adichie, C. (2009, July). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
  2. Burke, N. S. (2016, November 28). Losing Your Privilege. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@natalie4health/5-stages-of-grief-1-f90137b756