11 February, 2016

Powerful but dangerous stories

Stories are powerful, no doubt. Humans think in stories. That's what we tell one another when we get together socially. That's how we learn about one another and other places. I'd rather read a story about another culture, than a bunch of facts about it (unless I'm going there next week and need to know what to pack).

I first realised the power of stories when I went to a two-week workshop preparing us for our first home assignment in 2004. We learnt to tell short two-minute stories in presentations to supporters. On that home assignment we learnt how powerful stories are in practise. I told a couple of stories that drove me to tears a few times in front of the microphone. It connected with our audience, particularly other mums. People recounted their memories of those stories to me last year when we went back to visit their church.
This was a writer's workshop I led a couple of years ago,
one way that I have tried to help people tell their stories.

I watched this short TED talk the other day. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie  explained the danger of a single story. I guess another way of saying "the danger of limited knowledge". We know one story about a people group, a country, situation or even a person and we think we know everything there is to know. It gives us a one-dimensional view of someone or something and colours our view of that group/country/situation/person.


For example people think that having intelligent kids is wonderful, but if they haven't had one they don't realise that that doesn't mean life/parenting is easy.  (See here.) Or people think of Japan as highly technological, so it is hard for them to imagine that we walk or ride bikes many places.  

The danger of a single story explains all sorts of things, like:
  • why the world "knows" a lot about America and Britain but they don't know a lot about the world: because America and Britain have produced a lot of the stories but there aren't many "stories" out there about the rest of the world. So as an Australian, I tend to assume I know more about American vocab than Americans know about Australian vocab and can catch myself translating more than I need to.
  • prejudice: we are told just one story and we believe we know all about that people group or country
  • media's power to give a biased view: people are ready to believe just the one story and it shapes our opinions strongly
  • home assignment is hard work: people have only heard limited stories and that's where they come from in their conversation and questions; the missionary's job is telling many more stories to widen and challenge people's understanding
  • TCKs have a hard time: people want to put them in a box with a set of stories that describes who they are, but they take their stories from several different boxes, most of which are unknown to mono-cultural people
One of the main purposes of my blog is to tell stories of our ordinary lives as missionaries. This, I hope, will give people who stop by here the opportunity to understand more. 

But it is also part of my calling, I believe, to help other missionaries tell their stories. I'm doing that as a magazine editor, one day I hope that I can even do more than that by writing down people's stories who aren't confident to write their own stories.

Where have you seen the danger of a single story?

1 comment:

Rachel said...

As a PK (pastor's kid)I've experienced various people's version of the single story.....the assumptions made about who I am, what I believe, my motivations and my expected behavior.....all based on a usually inaccurate story they've heard from who knows where! The story varies in its extremes (e.g. someone once questioned if I should have been born at all given that "priests are not supposed to have kids"), to fellow Christians who have somehow come to the conclusion that pastor's families are exempt from bad days, bad moods and reality in general. It's tempting to get frustrated but how often do we make the same ridiculous assumptions about other people? Keep writing about the ordinary Wendy - no one who reads hear can say they've only heard a single story.