No one is a single story

While there are many quotes that are memorable from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED talk: The danger of a single story the one I walk away with the most is this one:

No one is a single story.

On the surface, I think most people realize this; yet, often times we are quick to judge and assume with just one single story.

And I know I’m not alone in this or immune to it either.

Let me take you back to last Friday night. My sons were playing in their soccer game and I was watching the game with some friends. This indoor facility has 3 soccer fields near each other so you can watch multiple games from one spot. And on our left, all of a sudden, in a loud, deep voice we hear:

CRUSH him! You’re bigger than him! CRUSH him!”

Did I tell you it was 4th grade soccer? Nine and 10 year old boys playing soccer…

He did it again so one of my friends went over to him and said:

“Hey man, what are you doing?”

Now this friend is a gentle soul and while I’m biased, he said it in a non-threatening way. More along the lines of…ummm, what’s going on?

The dad proceeded to yell at my friend. And then walked over and got in his face. And then got in the face of my other friend, too.

I honestly could not believe it. I really thought he was going to punch one of us. And all we asked him to do was to stop yelling “CRUSH him” at a 4th grade boys soccer game.

He huffed and puffed and acted in a way that I was in awe and shock of. I have not been around someone with that much anger in a long, long time.

Of course there were people saying, “What an ____!” And “I’m not surprised…he walked in here like he was entitled.” And “What’s he doing all dressed up in here anyway?”

Truth be told, I heard some of those own things going on in my head. But I also heard “Wow, I hope he just had a really, really bad day.” And “I wonder what’s going on in his life where he feels the need to yell at his own son in that tone, with such violence and then to get in the face and give the stare of death to my friends?”

And it’s no mistake that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED talk: The danger of a single story came to mind to share with my students on Monday. I needed that reminder. I needed to hear that what I see, in one instance, is not the whole story.

Another quote she shares toward the end of the talk is something along the lines of:

Stereotypes are one story, part of the story…but an incomplete story.

It was a great reminder to me and somewhat eye-opening for my students who watched the video yesterday for the next time you hear something or see something…to ask yourself:

“Is this the only part of the story?”

It can be easy to judge. Actually our brains prefer it because it takes less energy to judge, make up your mind quickly and then move on. But as Brene Brown shares when she talks about the Anatomy of Trust, when we are BRAVING, the “I” stands for integrity and that includes doing what’s right and not fast, easy or fun. And it’s also practicing your values, not preaching them.

So, realizing that no one is a single story and putting that into action are two different things.

As you look around you, interact with others think and ask yourself:

“What are their stories?” AND “What are mine?”

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