What if we could avoid the perils of a Single Story?

Posted on January 15, 2017 by Dr. Lynda

Have you ever noticed how vulnerable we are in the face of one compelling story? One story can ignite our impulse to create an entire narrative, harden our biases, close our minds.

Image: Old house abandoned and falling into the sea
Source: Bald Eagle Bluff // Flickr

When we see a terrible thing on the news, or when one bad thing happens to us, we seem hard-wired to interpret that experience in a way that fits perfectly with our general worldview so we say, “Uh-huh, see that. That proves it.”

And then, we become further closed to rival possibilities.

But what are we missing when we let one example prove an entire system of beliefs about another person, another culture, an innovation, or any other part of life?

Today, we have some fun exploring what may be possible when we move past our impulse to write something off because of a single story, and instead, we come to appreciate the richness of complexity.

This is also Part II of four skills we will share with you over the course of January!

On January 8th we began our four part series we are calling EWC Smarter Every Sunday.

For the first four Sundays of 2017, we will connect you to an insight that will change your entire year.  You’ll be wiser and know how to use that wisdom to make the world a little better place for both yourself and others.

Let’s start with this insightful and rather mesmerizing TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as she tells us about The Danger of a Single Story.


Via: TED 1

Wow! What an insight! It’s so obvious – like the nose on our faces – but I suspect most of us can easily slip into the way of thinking that she is describing.

I love the example she gives us when she did not believe all Americans were serial killers just because she had read one novel about an American serial killer. She made room for her view of Americans to include all the diverse things she had read.

But as Americans, do we tend to write the story of the entire continent of Africa after we’ve seen only a few negative news clips of Somalia?

Avoiding the Tunnel Vision Perspective

Seeing this TED Talk made me think back to the rhetoric on both sides in our recent presidential election. Think back to the last time you heatedly defended your favorite political candidate. I can remember the last time I did that because it was unusually unproductive.

Image: Little girl peering through the cornI remember being secretly stunned by the lack of indisputable facts I had to draw from in my argument, and the same was absolutely true of the person I was arguing with.

Now, I have to admit, we both probably referenced a single personal story, or at best, two stories, to prove our points. Or worse yet, we simply repeated a story we had heard relentlessly on our favorite news outlet.

That’s the way we all seem to be operating these days: we hear about an outrageous injustice and suddenly we feel we have the whole story. One compelling story and it’s tunnel vision from there on out.

In fact, the day I wrote this article, the headline in the news (on every news outlet) was the story of the Duke basketball player who had been suspended indefinitely for repeatedly trying to trip other players during games. You couldn’t turn on anything that day without seeing those 4 trips, replayed over and over; as if nothing else happening in the world was more important than shaming that young man on December 22, 2016.

Today, 3 weeks later, I googled “Duke player tripping”, and found the news articles from every possible corner were 20 Google pages deep from that day..

Now, nothing has been mentioned since anywhere on the web! We moved on to such weighty stories as fights breaking out in malls all over America on the day after Christmas, and the Philippines president threatening to throw corrupt officials out of a helicopter.

I wonder if we can get past this level of attention to the dramatically trivial. 

Some of us will because we want a better world. I hope you’ll join us here at EWC daily to do that!

Here’s a proposal:

What if when we experienced something negative, we filed away the knowledge as but one ingredient for a salad of many ingredients for our worldview? That doesn’t diminish its importance.

But here’s something my business partner and daughter likes to say,Image: Sparkling sunlight through wild flowers

Our worldview does not have to be an “either/or” place. The world is so much better than a binary system. – Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

We can hold examples of “the other” that are both good and bad. And the truth will almost always fall somewhere between the extremes.

Thanks to Chimamanda, we can see that now, much clearer!

Oh! and in case you missed it!

Part I in our EWC Smarter Every Sunday Series was a great article called How to Spot a Liar at a Glance. It’s another fabulous TED Talk with some fun insights that can turn us all into our own “fact checker” just by watching someone’s body language carefully! Fascinating!

Stay open, curious and optimistic!

~ Dr. Lynda

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