The Danger of a Single Story

19 Aug 2019

It's funny how the world works sometimes. My job is to raise money for charities. I wrote my Master's thesis ten years ago, when I was just starting out as a fundraiser. I was inspired hugely by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's moving TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story" - if you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend you do! Then last week at work, I was invited to a training session entitled "Challenging Privilege and the Danger of Single Stories". It turned out to be inspired by the same Adichie TED talk and was promoting the same messages that I wrote so extensively about ten years ago.

The sentiment of my thesis has stayed with me throughout my career because really, we fundraisers are just story-tellers. Stories are human nature, and they have a significant impact on all of us throughout our lives. Think of a story that's told in your family, or something you read or heard about on the news. It might be the plot of a film or a play. Perhaps it moved you emotionally. Perhaps it changed your perception of something.

Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories – it's a neurological fact. Because of this, stories are powerful and the "single story" – even more so. A single story is limiting, and it creates stereotypes. We see them all around us. Girls like pink, boys like blue. Girls are nurses, teachers, secretaries. Boys are engineers, pilots, brain surgeons. This single story about what a girl "is" and what a boy "is" has had a huge impact on our world.

Thankfully we live in a time where much of society recognises these single stories as just that – one, single story of one, single human's experience. In my job I'm conscious of it all the time, and of the responsibility we have, as story-tellers, to question, challenge and disrupt these stereotypes so that others can live lives that are equally unlimited.

It got me thinking, though, about the single story that I tell myself, about myself, and the impact that this has had on my life.

I am in my thirties and have never had a relationship. This is a shameful, sad story that is unrecoverable from, I have told myself. I haven't been in love because I am broken, there is something fundamentally wrong with me, I don't deserve it, I tell myself.

I see my story everywhere. When friends get married, when they divorce, when new babies arrive, when I watch a movie, listen to a song. It reinforces the one single story I tell myself, about myself, that I am not worthy, I will never experience these magical moments of life and therefore I am lesser than everyone else.

Why do I have so much belief that others deserve to be seen as the multitude of complex conflicting unpredictable stories that they are, but leave no space for myself to do the same? Can I apply some of that complexity to my own experience and think of some stories that I have lived, or might live, that have a different ending to "I don't deserve love"?

Is this something you recognise? Are there stories you have told yourself, or have been told about yourself, that have limited your experiences or even, perhaps, enhanced your life?


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