I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of the ‘single story’

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an absolutely brilliant and talented woman. Her novels are among my all time favourites and from the few video interviews and speeches I’ve heard her give, she seems to be a deeply insightful, engaging, bold and entertaining woman. I would love to meet her!

This talk about the ‘dangers of the single story’ is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. I think I tend a bit towards exaggeration and describe lots of things as ‘amazing’ and ‘thought-provoking’, but this speech truly is. I also think it provides an interesting perspective on ‘Otherness’ although Ms Adichie doesn’t comment on this concept directly. But she gives many examples from her own life experience, both of her own judgements of Others and the way others have judged her in turn, based on the ‘single story’. She draws on her own experience of the stories told about the poor, about Africans, about Americans, about immigrants – the over-generalized, narrow and often prejudicial narratives we tell about other people and other groups – to show the way in which these stories absolutely fail to capture reality and how these stories can cause harm, misunderstanding and rob others of their dignity.

This type of ‘single story telling’ is something we all do. We have all, at one time or another, been guilty of telling the single story and consequently of denying the dignity of our fellow humans. But if we can acknowledge the truth –  that there are in reality, many many stories – then there is hope of restoring that dignity.

It is certainly worth listening to the entire talk. I’ve shared a few ideas from the speech below, but it was a challenge picking out individual bits when all of the talk was so good. Please take the time to listen to the entire thing! You won’t be disappointed!

‘That is how to create a single story – show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.’

‘It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.Power is the ability, not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.’

‘The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity.’

‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also be used to repair that broken dignity.’

‘When we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.’

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Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about compassionate listening

Thanks to the wonderful bloggers over at Spiritbath for sharing this video!

Thich Nhat Hanh as been one of my favourite spiritual teachers for a long time – ever since I first read his book Living Buddha, Living Christ in high school. His messages are always inspiring. Simple but challenging. Practical and yet transformative.

Here he talks about the practice of deep listening – allowing others to share their suffering, to unload their pain; listening without judging, even when the other is speaking from wrong perception and incorrect understanding. We compassionately try to understand the other’s suffering first, and perhaps at a later time try to help them by giving advice or correcting wrong perceptions.

By truly listening, we can promote healing and better communication, and ultimately, create peace.

This is seriously challenging stuff, but I truly believe it is a worthwhile practice. We can apply this type of listening to our family members, friends, co-workers, even those we view as our enemies and who we feel bring suffering into our lives.

Who in your life is in need of compassionate listening? Can you be the one to help them find healing, allowing them to share their suffering with you, free from judgement?

For a daily dose of inspiration, check out Spiritbath.com!


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Meeting the Other…

‘Each of [the] people, whom we meet along the road and across the world, is in a way twofold; each one consists of two beings whom it is often difficult to separate, a fact that we do not always recognise. One of these beings is a person like the rest of us: he has his joys and sorrows, his good and bad days; he is glad of his successes, does not like to be hungry and does not like it when he is cold; he feels pain as suffering and misery, and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling.

‘The other being, who overlaps and is interwoven with the first, is a person as bearer of racial features, and as bearer of culture, beliefs and convictions. Neither of these beings appears in a pure isolated state – they co-exist, having a reciprocal effect on each other.

‘However, the problem … is that this relationship existing within each of us, between the person as individual and personality and the person as bearer of culture and race, is not immobile, rigid or static, not fixed inside him for good. On the contrary, its typical features are dynamism, mobility, variability and differences in intensity, depending on the external context, the demands of the current moment, the expectations of the environment, and even one’s own mood and stage of life.

‘ As a result, we never know whom we are going to meet, even though by name and appearance it may be someone who is already familiar to us. And what about when we come into contact with a person we are seeing for the first time? So every encounter with the Other is an enigma, an unknown quantity – I would even say a mystery.’

~Ryszard Kapuściński, Polish reporter, journalist, traveller, photographer, poet and writer (1932-2007)

Lately, I have been doing a great deal of reflecting on Otherness, diversity, difference, and culture. When we discuss The Other, who or what is it that we are really talking about? And who is the Self we are comparing to the outside Other? Each of us meets Otherness in our everyday lives, even if we don’t travel to distant locations and exotic countries. Sometimes the Other is disguised as someone we think we know, our neighbour, someone we think is the same as us, but who ends up surprising us. Each encounter in our lives, even those that seem mundane and ordinary, can be an eye-opening meeting with mystery and newness.

I feel like this theme of Otherness has been appearing in so many things I’ve read and in so many of my personal experiences in recent times. I think it is both a fascinating and important topic to explore and try to understand, as we live in such an inter-connected global society, and are constantly interacting with people of such diverse beliefs and background, either face-to-face or through various forms of media. If we want to live in a peaceful world, we can’t ignore the topic of Otherness.

It’s obviously a big topic – far too big for one post! I look forward to exploring the topics of the Other, Otherness, diversity and culture in upcoming posts throughout the next weeks and months and I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

We never know where the journey will take us or who we'll meet along the way.

We never know where the journey will take us or who we’ll meet along the way.


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Challenging our views…

I am currently a member of a parenting network online, in which members share stories and experiences and ask for parenting advice via email. I’ve learned some wonderful things from people in this community and I feel, without a doubt, that these are good, sincere, thoughtful and intelligent folks. I have really enjoyed learning from and getting know this lovely group.

That being said, I would like to share a brief exchange that occurred during an email ‘conversation’ between a few members of this online community, because I think it is an interesting example of the way people make decisions about what is true and false.

One person initiated this email conversation by mentioning a recent scientific study she’d read which looked at the differences between a large number people who were either breastfed or bottle-fed in infancy. The study measured differences in a wide variety of characteristics, such as intelligence, health, obesity in adulthood, among others. These characteristics were compared between breast- and bottle-fed children, both from different families, and within families (i.e. one sibling was breastfed and his/her sibling was bottle-fed). According to the brief summary this first person shared, the study seemed to say siblings fed with different methods showed no significant differences in health, intelligence and whatnot, although there were differences between children from different families, showing advantages for those who were breastfed.

Why might this be significant? Because it might mean breastfeeding is not be the sole cause of these advantages; instead, other factors like socio-economic status, wealth, education, culture, geographic location and ethnicity of parents may be the key. In other words, breastfeeding and better health or intelligence may be co-related, rather than breastfeeding being the direct cause of  all of these benefits.

Now, I have yet to read the entire study, so this is just a summary of what I was told it was about. As a disclaimer: I am not making any claims whatsoever in this post about the pros/cons of breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding! I am not recommending you do one or the other. That is absolutely not the point of what I’m trying to say here!

So, what is my point then? I’m glad you asked!

I was actually more interested in the reaction I saw to the mere mention of this study’s findings, coming almost entirely from people who hadn’t even read it yet!

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