Novelist Chimamanda Adichie made some important observations when she presented her speech titled ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ at the TED conference. The Nigerian born author spoke about how stereotypes and notions continue to influence opinions in contemporary society. These may be in the form of written literature or existing beliefs which may have the potential to consolidate opinion from a particular perspective without taking into account the larger picture. This could be a dangerous phenomenon as it could make the reader or the individual ignorant to many other factors which are vital to develop a deeper understanding of the issue. She elaborates on this with several examples drawn from her own experiences. She spoke about the many misconceptions harboured by the West when it came to their thoughts on countries from Africa. She finished her talk by emphasizing on the need to have a more balanced view on people and the society they are a part of.
I could relate to the author on many levels after having listened to her. I have realized that perceptions are influenced in two ways. One being the perceptions of people on us while the other being our own individual opinions on people and other issues. To cite an example from my own life, where I was part of a system that more or less regarded academic education as the only way towards having a successful career. This is a practice that is still prevalent in many countries which can force parents to be tough on their children. Such a system can be very hard on students with modest academic records. In fact these very students might posses a high skill set for other rewarding vocations such as art, sport, music, writing or even a sound business acumen for entrepreneurial start ups. Often this is all part of a vicious cycle where parents are pressurized because of society’s confirmation to convention which forces them to be unforgiving on their children. A deeper understanding of any issue will always help individuals towards making informed choices that would make unconventional choices seem logical rather than an act of risk.
Another recent incident that was an eye opener for me was North Korea’s performance at the recently concluded London Olympics. The country stood at a very respectable 20th place in the medals tally which is higher than even developed economies like Canada or Spain. For a country which is often criticized for its totalitarian regime, North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the World. Their performance gives us all an insight in to some of the more positive attributes of its people. Their perseverance and willingness to excel even while being part of a challenging system needs to be acknowledged and applauded.
Even if a country is going through a phase of turmoil culturally and politically, it will produce its share of individuals who have several stories of courage and sacrifice who will make a difference to the larger picture regardless of the outcome. Viewing issues in a new light would provide a more balanced view and help empower humanity.
Chimamanda Adichie talks on ‘Danger of A Single Story’ at TED Conference, 2009