28 Jul

Sharing The ‘Danger Of A Single Story’

Today I share a video that I recently came across quite serendipitously. I was perusing a photo-blog site that was recommended to me in the comments of one of my recent posts (thanks Amy…I love her!) and came across a video that, for me, summed up a concept that I have been struggling to articulate.

I struggled as we traveled with the question of whether wanting to see other cultures and learn more about them is a voyeuristic pursuit brought about by my relative wealth and privilege (as a Westerner) or am I trying to fight the ‘single story’ by learning firsthand about a country.

Engaging Quote Before leaving I certainly had a single story of many of the places that we were to visit. I shamefully admit that I was surprised when places did not live up to the monocular view that I had assigned them. Pleasantly surprised…and interested. Interested to learn why I had the vision I did and interested to see how my vision evolved as I spent more time in a place and learned more about its history and culture.

And yet I know that it doesn’t matter how many books I read, how many places I visit, or how long I stay there I still will not ‘know’ it as I will always filter it through my own lens. I cannot know what it’s like to be a Peruvian woman living in the Andes any more than I can know what it’s like to be a Muslim Turkish woman or a Vietnamese woman running the iced coffee stall in the market. I am a Western woman living a typical (and not-so-typical) western life. I will view everything though this lens – it’s impossible not to. I will compare and contrast what I see to what I know about my own life. I can only imagine what a life might be like when I imagine my own life like that and that has to take into account everything that I am made of – my upbringing, my place in society, my socio-economic position, my education, my hardships (or lack thereof), my opinions.

Consequence Quote That’s not to say that we should not travel. On the other hand I argue that we should even more. We should gather those stories and keep adding to our books so that we can learn how similar we are rather than how different. Although I may never truly understand another culture or person, I can certainly go a long way to eradicating my complete ignorance. Learning the other stories people have will take me closer to having a broader lens through which to view the world.

9 thoughts on “Sharing The ‘Danger Of A Single Story’

  1. Gillian, I am so glad you liked chookooloonks. I find Karen to be very thought provoking, fun, and inspirational. Plus her photos are fantastic! Everyone I tell about her site simply loves her. I didn’t watch the video above when Karen first posted it, but I figured with a second prompting it was worth watching. I really enjoyed it, and your thoughts as well.

  2. Thank you Gillian. This video and your commentary about the realizations it helped you have are incredibly thought provoking and moving. It has helped me tremendously to know that others are wondering the same things I wonder and we are all moving forward – toward a more complete and authentic understanding of each other – wherever we are in the world.

  3. @Amy:I have watched it many times…it moves me every time. I’m glad you found it when you needed it.

  4. Interestingly, at the bookstore yesterday we picked up some novels at random from the cheap table at the back of the store. I got home and started reading one before I realized it was written by Chimamanda Adichie…the same woman speaking in the video. I’m looking forward to reading it even more now!

    • And now I can share that Half Of A Yellow Sun is an excellent novel. I learned about the Nigerian separation into Biafra and the ensuing war and famine. A fascinating read that I highly recommend! Cheers!

  5. It is great to see that Ngozi Adichie continues to echo Africa’s literary giant Chinua Achebe’s positions on literary issues. I recall this very topic developed more fully in Achebe’s Home and Exile. It would have been nice if she had done some more research and taken this same argument a little further.

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