I recently had the opportunity to watch the Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” by Chimamanda Adichie, where she addresses the harmful consequences of labeling people and experiences in only one way. Only seeing people as poor or murderous or unintelligent, and then letting that label be the only lens you view them through. Not learning more. Not connecting with them on a human level. Letting the outside assign stereotypes that we mindlessly accept and move forward with. Because we are rushed. Because we are lazy. Because…
And every single word she speaks is the absolute truth. We cannot just assign a single story to a person or group of people, and allow that to be our only perception of them. Yet, I want to push this idea even further because I see something even more dangerous playing out, and it’s this: the intentional decision of people to dismiss others entirely, assigning them no story.
Hearing another news story that paints all Mexicans as illegal drug lords, or all African Americans as gun-toting murderers, or all Middle Eastern citizens as extreme terrorists, and accepting that label as if it’s the only one is damaging enough. But this worse.
Let me explain. Recently, to the shock of many of us, Betsy DeVos became our Secretary of Education. Even more shocking, Trump became our president. And we are left slack-jawed, scratching our heads. We just don’t get it. In America, how could this be? We have so many questions we need to ask to help us understand, but we don’t ask them. We simply move on with a mentality of dismissing any and everything they will ever say or do. Example: the highly popular hastag #notmypresident.
Yes, he is. And blindly dismissing him as such is not productive. We still have to listen, question, and resist against that which does not unite our country.
Another example arose a couple weeks ago when DeVos took an intense amount of heat for this quote:
“I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
The social media universe went aflame with her poking fun at the public school free lunch program. Except she didn’t. She said, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and that’s true. Nothing is free. Whether you agree or disagree with her idea to reduce government spending in this area is a moot point. A simple and true statement made by her was completely taken out of context, misconstrued into something it never intended to communicate and likely caused the marriages to end and friendships of 20+ years to crumble.
Because I don’t like her so I dismiss her entirely and if you do like her, I dismiss you entirely too.
This notion that when we don’t agree the other must have nothing to offer is permeating our culture in more places that politics. It’s taking over communities, work forces, and society in general. My dad once spoke these wise words,
“People shout from the rooftops ‘diversity,’ but no one wants diversity of thought.”
So true, and I don’t know how we became so black and white. One person does not have the all the answers to the world’s problems, just as one person didn’t cause all of them. Effectively running any system, including the country, revolves around a lot of gray and we seem to have removed ourselves from being okay in that space.
But this post is not about politics. This post is about open-mindedness and listening and learning. To do this we must keep questioning. And not by just shouting them in the air in anger or disgust, and moving on. But by really asking them, and opening our hearts and minds to hear the answer. We may not like or agree with what we hear, but it’s the only way to understand, and more importantly, stay informed. The other side of that coin is that when someone asks us questions about our beliefs or ideas, we can’t become defensive. They are likely asking questions to better understand, not out of judgement. Remaining quiet and in our own corners is not going to bring about the unity we seek. Neither is denouncing others from on high.
It starts with you. It’s starts with a single question. Ask it and just listen. Then breath in how refreshing it is to learn more deeply about someone or something. We have all complex stories, and each deserves to be heard. All the layers of it, not just one…or none.