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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Creating meaningful connections…

What is the difference between sympathy and empathy, and how do they work to either alienate others or to build bridges and create true understanding and compassion?

 

Why is it so easy for us to resort to sympathy when a loved one shares a difficulty with us?

Is it in some way defensive, perhaps because we are intimidated by the negative emotions of others? Are we afraid to appear vulnerable or to open up to the needs of another person? Do we feel awkward and simply don’t know the appropriate thing to say or do? Do we feel like it is our responsibility to fix the other person or their problem, rather than just being fully present and witnessing the other’s experience?

How can we practice true empathy in our daily life with those around us?


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‘An attitude of openness, the willingness to recognize and accept the diversity of human experience and the spiritual values of other traditions and cultures, is essential in the practice of non-violence. We create true peace when we are inclusive of others. Yet inclusion and nonattachment to our opinions are sometimes difficult to practice. Exclusion, getting caught up my our views, is a deep-seated habit that arises from fear and misunderstanding of others. To transform our habit of excluding others, we must practice and develop understanding and compassion in all parts of our life.’

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, in Creating True Peace

There is a well known saying that it is better to be kind than to be right. I believe this is true, and yet, it can be such a challenge to really live out this belief. If you’re like me, you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into forming your particular beliefs and worldview, and these beliefs become an essential part of our concept of ourselves. In fact, it can feel that what we think and feel and believe is our True Self. It can be painful, frustrating, seemingly impossible to take a step back from those beliefs, to honestly attempt to understand the views of others, especially those we disagree with, and those who think or live in a way that conflicts with our beliefs.

If we are to live peacefully, peace cannot be just a concept. It must be a practice. It must be something we do. We must make it real. What steps can we take to create peace in our everyday lives? Is it truly possible to put our beliefs and opinions aside in order to connect in a heartfelt way with those who are different from us? What are the practical things we can do in our lives to grow in compassion and understanding with other people? 

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