This inspiring and articulate novelist shares the important lesson of not letting a single story define a people or place. Stories are told, she reminds us, dependent on power. And if the same kind of uni-dimensional story is told over and over again, it creates a one-sided, flattened narrative that perpetuates stereotypes. For instance, if you only ever hear the same negative story about Africa focusing on war, disease and starvation, then eventually you think of an entire continent, millions of people and hundreds of cultures as if they all have the exact same narrative. Chimamanda Adichie makes her point in a much more powerful and poignant way than I can re-interpret, so I highly recommend you watch the Ted Talk.
One thing she says stands out for me, in particular. That when you craft a single narrative, the result is an emphasis on difference rather than similarity. Creating a feeling of otherness, a sense of us-versus-them (whatever the context) is, in my opinion, the most negative aspect of storytelling.
I am, clearly, a big fan of telling stories. It’s my passion and my livelihood. But it is not, inherently, a moral endeavour. This presentation was a reminder for me that the broad goal of producing narrative should be, even if it often isn’t, to connect people and ideas. Sharing another side of the story, another perspective in an attempt to bridge difference.
They talk a lot in journalism school about objectivity, which is a rather shallow concept to teach. I’d rather we’d talked more about creating community. Even when people disagree ideologically – as they always will – creating community could accept difference, but focus more on the human similarities we all have that can bring us together.
A good writer should be able to do that with the words they write and the stories they tell, inspiring any reader, any audience.