One of the difficulties we face in this work is what Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “’” approach. If I can only see you as Liberal, or a Fundamentalist, or Non-Theist, or Conservative, then I see you as a “single story.” I have a particular script based on negative experiences I’ve had in my past with you or people like you and now that script runs in the background whenever I meet someone of that particular storyline. A single-story is a story we tell about someone or a group of people that collapses that person’s experience, history, feelings, his or her uniqueness down into a flat stereotype. It allows us to “understand” them without knowing them, and often works as a justification for mistreating of other human beings.
What are the ways in which you have collapsed another person’s – Quaker or not – faith and life experiences down to a single-story?
Look for places where you have been quick to dismiss, cancel, or write-off someone as not being "worth your time?" When have you been subject to this kind of treatment by others?
The Danger of a Single Story
A number of years ago, I came across a TED Talk given by Adichie, who is from Nigeria. I think it's made its rounds on the internet and many are familiar with it, but here's a summary if you are not. Her talk is profound and well worth watching and re-watching. It is also salient to the discussion at hand. (See #1)
The main point of her talk is that, because we are so “impressionable in the face of a story,” we need to be aware that:
Single stories create stereotypes. The problem isn’t that stereotypes are not true, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
Think of some of the prevalent single-stories in our society:
We have a bad experience with a poor person and every poor person after that is subjected to that one story we tell ourselves. Look at how President Ronald Reagan weaponized the term "" in the 1980s and turned a generation of people against Black and poor women in our country. He leveraged that to stigmatize poverty as an individual "sin" - - and he used it to weaken social safety nets that benefit all Americans because it was viewed as being taken advantage of or enabling people to remain poor. This is the power of a single-story that all of us are vulnerable to. I am sure we all have many examples today of how these stories get used to cancel people: Social Media culture further fuels and allows for this kind of weaponizing of single-stories.
Our country has a negative encounter with one group of extremist Muslims, and now all Muslims are represented by that one instance. And what about immigrants? Black people? Women? People who are gay? Rich folks? Christians? Atheists? Maybe the single-story we are prone to using is something related to others in our community?
...to insist on only the negative stories is to flatten my experience and overlook the many other stories that have formed me.”
Are we aware of the single-stories that we have assumed about those in our (spiritual) community? Are we willing to have those stories challenged, made more complex, filled with humility and grace?
An Important Aside (unfold the arrow to the left)
One thing to be aware of is the way in which you may have been subjected to single-stories in your own life and how that not only impacts how you view yourself, but how you may respond to others. We need to offer ourselves grace when it comes to seeing ourselves in more holistic ways and recognizing that we are not those things other people, systems, or society has put on us. Keep in mind your own healing is an important part of you and your communities finding wholeness.
“Pain not managed becomes pain transmitted elsewhere.” - Jason Minnix
In what ways are the single-stories you've been subjected to in your own life at play in your responses/reactions to others in the communities you are a part of?