Updated: Aug 10, 2019
A few years ago, I had the enormous privilege of seeing Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her latest novel. I knew nothing about her except that she was Nigerian and that she had written Americanah, a book I’d absolutely loved. I left the event 90 minutes later inspired and wanting to know more.
Afterwards I watched Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story. Throughout she talks about how limiting and how damaging a single story or viewpoint about a person can be, that it creates stereotypes that while not necessarily incorrect, are more often than not incomplete. That a single story creates presumption rather than openness, a potential wall of prejudice in our relationships with one another as human beings. She told of her own single stories, blown apart by having the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and also of the single stories about herself, experienced through the eyes of others.
It made me think more about single stories and one of the most extreme and damaging in our recent history – the Nazi's ‘story’ about the Jews. It also made me think about my own single stories, how each twist of my kaleidoscope reveals a potential single story – Aussie, almost 50-something, marketer, single, corporate career woman, Dutch, pragmatist, entrepreneur just to name a few. And with all of that, the whole is so much more than the sum of all of these 'stories'.
Then there are my single stories about others and I began thinking about how this starts with our parents. We see them as Mum and Dad and then they become ‘people’ as we get more and more perspective about them. How my Dad went from the person I thought was my biggest critic to someone who was more proud of me than I ever knew. How my Mum continues to be one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know, rising to every challenge and finding strength of purpose again and again in making a difference.
I was even thinking beyond people to my original single story about London and how every discovery I make about - even now almost 16 years later - it both enriches my experience of living here and deepens my love for this amazing city.
It made me think about my reading of Americanah as my first dip into Nigerian culture, how much I loved it and how I took the story to heart. And also how this was my single story about something until I saw Adichie speak that night and then again on her TED talk.
We cannot afford to take our single perspective in isolation - whether on customers, employees, competitors, stakeholders or even organisations - when gathering a myriad of snippets, viewpoints and soundbytes makes for a far more real and intrinsically richer story, a stronger connection and a deeper relationship.
So that's my story.
And I’m sticking to it.
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A version of this article was first published in May 2014