The Single Story is the one thing we tell ourselves that all of our understanding rests on. For many of us, we heard the phrase, "It your food! There are starving children in China!" The single story is that children in China starve.
This wheedles its way into our lives. For example, I was having an argument with my husband while we were on vacation. I was hungry and we were out of town shopping in a grocery store we don't normally shop in. My goal was to get shopping done as quickly as possible so we could solve the rising problem of hunger. We split up so we could work twice as fast. My husband was having a problem finding the groceries we needed. The story that I told myself was that he wasn't trying hard enough. I was about to get into a full flight of fury when instead, borrowing from Brene Brown, I inserted, "The story I'm telling myself is..." before launching into my tirade. When I did this, it totally deflated my well planned argument. I went from "You're not looking in the right places or trying hard enough" to "The story I'm telling myself is that you...well...in fact, I have no idea what is going through your head. Why don't you tell me?"
We can change the single story we tell ourselves simply by being curious. This is important in our polarized society. I am convinced that the only way we will move forward is through relationships that transform the stories we hear. For example, around violence with guns, if we enter into a curiosity based relationship that inquires rather than a single story that labels the other as a gun-nut or liberal snowflake. Neither of those stories help or heal. It only separates and divides. How do we break the impasse? A willingness to be curious.
Dr. David Campt writes this simple mnemonic when talking to racism skeptics:
R-reflect ahead of time what you will say
A-ask questions about their story
C-connect with your own story and find empathy
E-expand their thinking
This works if you are curious and willing to enter into their story, setting aside the thread of the single story. I also think we could generalize this to all sticky conversations by zipping out R/reflect and zipping in P/ponder. 🙂
My prayer for us all is that we will find the threads of the many stories and be curious where they lead.
PS: Below is a TED talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of the single story.