The Danger of a Single Story

In my seminar entitled “Becoming Globally Engaged,” we recently watched a TED Talk by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie, who spoke about the danger of only recognizing a single “story” about another person or country and the grave misunderstandings that may follow. This has prompted me to reflect on the “stories” that I have encountered in my life thus far.

I have spent my entire life in Norman, Oklahoma. Sure, I have traveled with my friends and family, and even spent a summer in Spain with the Rotary Youth Exchange program, but I feel as if (in general) my life has been limited to many variations of a similar “story.” My friends and I all have similar backgrounds, and despite best efforts to explore my environment and meet others with different perspectives, I feel that the majority of my life is encompassed by those with similar socio-economic statuses, familial situations, and past times. This is not to say that I have not seen diversity or explored the boundaries of my peers in my hometown, but as a generalization I feel that my life has been limited in the range of “stories” that I have been exposed to. However, I feel that lots of the traveling, exploring, meeting new friends, and even volunteering that I have done throughout my adolescence has contributed to my desire to thoroughly understand those with different “stories.”

It is the job of all engaged citizens to not be limited in the “stories” regarding any country or situation. Just as many Americans have been limited in their “stories” as others from around the world have been about the United States. Online media makes it incredibly difficult for those who have not had experiences with certain groups of people to generalize their “stories.” As globally engaged American citizens (and Global Engagement Fellows) it is our responsibility to be ambassadors for our country and share our diversity with any who struggle to comprehend our unique “stories.” It is also our responsibility to be an advocate for those whose “stories” are openly stereotyped. Hopefully, in the long run, this will create an environment of mutual global understanding.

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