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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The universe is in us all

‘The knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth – the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars- the high mass ones among them- went unstable in their later years- they collapsed and then exploded- scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy- guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems- stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, cause their small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.’    ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson ticks a lot of boxes for me.

First, he is clearly brilliant. No need to elaborate there.

Second, the way he describes space, matter, stars, physics, life and the potential for life in the universe… he makes it so accessible, even to people like me without much background knowledge in these topics. In fact, he makes me eager to learn so much more!

Third, his enthusiasm is absolutely infectious! I really didn’t enjoy any science classes when I was in school, but have become a fan of ‘popular science’ as an adult. Reading about biology, chemistry, evolution, genetics, and cosmology – it’s a challenge for me, but I also find it intensely rewarding because it forces me to look at the world and the universe in such a different way than I normally do. For one thing, it encourages me to see things from a non-anthropocentric perspective, and I enjoy the way it reminds me of my place in the universe.

It helps me to remember I am not the centre of everything. Not only that, but humans as a species aren’t the centre of everything. We share a kinship with all the creatures on our planet, with the plants, with bacteria, with stones and seas and the clouds in the sky… as Neil deGrasse Tyson points out, we even share a sort of kinship with the stars. Not in a sort of magical airy-fairy way, but in a real, chemical, atomical, physical way; we are all inter-connected. We are all a part of each other, and there is something beautiful and humbling about that reality.


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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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Before They Pass Away

An inspiring talk given by photographer Jimmy Nelson, who has travelled the globe to create a stunningly beautiful photographic record of the world’s rapidly disappearing indigenous cultures. He shares some wonderful stories of his encounters with these communities and the key lessons he learned during these intimate cultural exchanges.

In Jimmy Nelson’s own words:

‘We in the developed world are very comfortable with our prejudices and with our judgements. Look closer. Look closer because you never know what’s around the corner. Often things can be very different than what they seem.’

‘Even at the edge of the world, if you dare feel yourself, if you dare feel the environment you live in, if you dare feel one another, you know what will make you happy and you have a choice [as to how you live].’

‘By being vulnerable, by letting go, by being fallible, you can connect with people on any level.’

To learn more about this amazing project and to view the breathtaking photos, click here: Before They Pass Away


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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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‘I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.’

~Pope Francis

from an interview featured in America: The National Catholic Review