The single story is when only one story is known about a person or place and because of that one story everyone is judged by it. It’s a stereotype, a critical misunderstanding, an incomplete picture.
We can all be guilty of believing the single story. It’s something that’s often portrayed in the media and when we hear the same thing over and over then we believe it to be real.
Take those on benefits for instance. The media makes them out to be lazy, never looking for work, just taking the money and smoking or drinking it away, or spending it on scratch cards in the hope they can get more money for doing nothing. This is how they are seen in TV documentaries and dramas or in newspapers or magazines. People believe this, people stereotype all benefit claimants as lazy scroungers. The truth is, benefit claimers come in all forms. Yes, there may be some lazy ones that have never done a days work, there are also pensioners who have worked all their lives and have to rely on a state pension to survive after retirement. There are also the families where Dad may work 40 hours per week and still not earn enough to pay the rent and put food on the table so he gets benefits to top up his wages. There are also disabled people who are too sick to work, or find it difficult to find a job that they are physically able to do. There are also single mums who’s partners have run off and left them to look after their child alone, they can only work part time because they can’t afford childcare and need a top up of benefits just to survive. Basically, there are many stories, not just a single one, but why are people so ready to believe just one? Should we not stop judging all by one story and just imagine what other stories there may be?
Stories are important, we all have our own stories to tell, we all have different lives, one story does not fit all. We need to share our stories and add diversity to the mix. Let people know that we are not all the same, we are not stereotypes.
As a parent of autistic children I’ve seen first hand how people judge. They may know that my child is autistic and then comment on why she doesn’t flap her arms, isn’t that what autistic children do? No, that’s just one story, my daughter doesn’t flap but she’s still autistic. My son was once reprimanded in the street because he touched someone’s car that had parked on the pavement. I was told to keep him away. That man thought my son was trying to damage his car because it had been scratched before by some wayward teenager. That was one story, my son’s story was different, he is autistic, he has to touch cars if they are on the pavement, it’s something he does, he can’t help it. He gets very stressed if he doesn’t, he has never damaged a car in his life.
Always look deeper, it’s too easy to judge people when you only know a small part of their story. Don’t assume, don’t stereotype, just think about why a person is like that, why they do the things they do. There is always another story that may not be as obvious. Read between the lines. Don’t assume that because some media has made you believe one story that that is the only story. It very rarely is, there is always more to find out.
The single story can be about a single person or an entire city, or even a nation. The stories come to us in newspapers, tv programs and novels. To get a full picture you need to read many stories, not just one.
My post today was inspired by a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichies who talks about the dangers of the single story. It’s an incredibly enlightening talk by a charming lady. If you have time do take a look.
I am fast becoming an addict of TED talks, you can find talks on all kinds of subjects that are enlightening, empowering, motivating, inspiring and educational. It’s a fantastic resource.
Do let me know if you have already used TED talks or if you decide to do so.
This post contains links but I have not been paid for this post or asked to write about TED talks.