Moving from Single Stories to Multiple Meanings-How Do You Get There?

Terry readers, I have a burning question. Actually that should be plural,  because I have questions, and they relate to the TED talk below. (And really, please do be nice and participate. That’s one of the things that makes Terry* fun).

Back to the talk. In it, Chimamanda Adichie talks about the danger of a single story. She describes growing up in Nigeria, being surrounded by British and American literature and how as a result, her own stories featured characters talking about the weather and drinking ginger beer. (Side note: by a show of quick comments below, how many people have had this experience?  For me, I read a ton of Enid Blyton/British boarding school novels in Malawi, and I completely identified with her descriptions. And like the little boy Jahangir in Rohinton Mistry’s novel Family Matters, I can almost taste roast beef, scones and cold milk when I think about Blyton’s descriptions of picnics) For Adichie, until she discovered other Nigerian writers, it didn’t occur to her that literature could feature people similar to herself, from her country, having experiences she had experienced, and foods she had actually tasted.

She goes on to say that when we show people as one thing over and over again, that is what they become. And it’s critical to understand that stories are dependent on power. Power not just to tell the story of another, but to make it the definitive story. And this matters because stories do. They have the power to rob people of dignity, but they have the power to repair dignity as well.

Really, it’s an amazing talk that’s well worth the 18 minute investment. After listening and watching though, I want to ask: what are things that you do in your daily life/experiences to protect yourself from thinking in single stories? Are there ‘strategies’ (for lack of a better word) that you’ve found particularly useful in discovering the multiplicity that exists everywhere? What are challenges you face in learning about stories different from your own? Thinking back to power, how do you work through trying to be sensitive and respectful (less an issue when you’re reading a book perhaps, but more so when you’re talking to someone and trying to learn more), and knowing that one person’s experiences cannot account for a whole community, culture, city, country etc?

I realise that’s a lot of questions. But these are all questions I struggle with myself, so  would love to talk and discuss all this a bit more..

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Shagufta is a UBC Political Science graduate with a passion for interdisciplinary thinking, writing, travel, reading, tea, and interesting conversations. She hopes to combine all of these things in her life work someday. For now though, she studies social policy and planning at the University of Toronto and shares her adventures in and out of the classroom at