The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Consider the limitations of having a single story of anything. It creates the illusion that it is the only story, rigidifying perception into a finite container.
When author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently spoke at a university, a student told her it was a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in her novel. She responded by telling him she had just read a novel called American Psycho, and it was a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.
She could give this clever, facetious response because she had more than a single story of America.
If all facts or characteristics are compressed into one story, the process can create racism and prejudice, a stereotypy both incomplete and inaccurate. A single story can dispossess and malign; multiple stories can empower and humanize. A single story becomes the Procrustean bed onto which all data are configured to fit.
We think in stories and tell stories throughout the day. We frame our personal narrative in terms of supporting characters of spouse, children, colleagues, friends, and even adversaries. We classify our lives in chapters of past and present, getting married, raising children, current career, and relationships. Tragedy and triumph become events as well as plot lines. Framing our narrative as a chapter, or as a storyline allows us to see a beginning, middle, and an end to distinguish present creation from past experience.
As natural storytellers, with brains wired for stories, we can tell our stories to ourselves. To both examine and expand beyond a single story. To reflect on how we are the authors of our own stories, writing each aspect of the script. To know that each moment we create whatever we think, feel, and experience. To understand the beliefs we’ve chosen to guide that writing. To examine challenges we face. To see how we can turn problems into possibilities. To plan the next chapter.
Ample evidence shows that challenging a strongly held belief has little to do with facts, even with logic. Our minds are not designed to be changed by evidence and argument presented by a stranger. Ideas will be considered much more readily when there is emotional, persuasive storytelling, and when we can identify with the storyteller. We begin to care about a leader, or book or film character, when we see a fit with an aspect of our identity.
The most powerful component of writing a new story is mindfulness and full presence in the moment to engage and examine the choice architecture of each next step. Our stories always take place in the present moment.
TELLING AND SELLING YOUR STORY:
The Art, Craft, Science, and Business of Writing Your First Book
by David Krueger MD is available on CDs with Workbook