The secret power of stories


One of the reasons we have decided to move to the inner city is because we are hoping that it would put us in a position where we can listen to the stories of people who are very different from us socio-economically and culturally in a more sustainable way.

In her powerful TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story, award-winning Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Aldichie, makes the point that when we let a single story drive our defining perception of a certain person, group or situation it creates stereotypes and “the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.” The consequence of believing such “single stories” about others “is that it robs people of their dignity. It makes recognition of our equal humanity difficult and it emphasizes that we are different, rather than how we are similar.”

I believe that we need to listen more. Listen more to the stories of people in this country who are different from us. People in this country are more than a single story. No one person or people group or situation in this country can be defined by a single story.

But listening to someone’s story not only dismantles our stereotypical thinking, it also has tremendous value for the person telling their story. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings in South Africa in the 1990’s Lucas Baba Sikwepere was given the opportunity to share the story of how he came to be blind. He told the agonizing story with disturbing detail and then Ms Gobodo-Madikizela, who was interviewing him thanked him and asked, “How do you feel, Baba, about coming here to tell us your story?” This was his answer:
“I feel what – what has brought my sight back, my eye sight back is to come back here and tell the story. But I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn’t tell my story. But now I – it feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story.”

Stories can restore the sight of the blind. It brings healing to the blindness of the story-teller, by restoring their dignity and humanity, but also brings healing to the blindness of the listener, by revealing our common humanity.

Who’s dignity can you restore this week by listening to their story? Who will you allow to heal your own “blindness” by listening to their story?

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