This week Unbound Equity (#unboundeq) – organised by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin & Mia Zamora is discussing empathy and bias in the context of the danger of a single story. The TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story will give you a good introduction.
With my Indian/Hindu background, multiple stories were the norm. I mean, that’s why we have different gods and the concept of an Ishta Devatha, right? So of course everyone has different perspectives, different experiences, and different lives, and the fun is to hear, see, understand these many perspectives.
But then, things changed when I started to realise that not everyone goes through this. Some people do not see multiple stories, they see single stories. Sometimes through circumstance (they have not met anyone different enough), but sometimes, they seem to prefer the single story…
So this got me thinking: Why are single stories (sometimes) preferred on an individual level? Why do some people seek out multiple stories? And what role can educators play in this? And what is the role of our digital life?
Why are single stories (sometimes) preferred on an individual level?
I think there are many reasons for this. Some tweets in the #unboundeq twitter feed focus on the issue of power. Whoever has power pushes single stories about the people they have power over.
But I also think there are other issues. One is that single stories are easy – and sometimes they offer an easy way out. People don’t want multiple stories because that is messy, complex, unclear, etc. Multiple stories force you to think, force you to understand, force you to allow for shortcomings, force compromise… Multiple stories require you to show empathy.
Another thing is that at an individual’s level, single stories allow you to distract from the real problems, which could be your personal issue. For example, it’s easier to say that that particular group of colleagues do not do a particular task well, than it is to recognise the flaws in your project planning and to amend it.
Why do some people seek out multiple stories?
When I understood that there can be multiple stories, I actively sought them out. I wanted them to be part of my life, career, etc. I think multiple stories give you a better insight into the situation, allowing you to take better decisions. They also allow you to relate to other people on a very personal level, and give you insight into their perspective. Of course, multiple stories depend on good communication and interaction between the participants. That’s the starting point, really…. They also depend on an ability to deal with the messiness.
What role can educators play in this?
Educators can play a very important role in this. Especially formal education gives learners a context and safe environment in which multiple stories can be discovered, their authenticity can be validated and more insight can be gained.
Educators can provide opportunity: I think formally organised education especially has the potential to give learners the context to interact with people representing authentically different stories. This can be culturally different (with people from different cultural backgrounds) but also disciplinarily different (interactions between disciplines).
Educators can provide context: When learners interact with authentic stories from multiple people, educators can provide context to increase insight and understanding and deal with the complexity. They can help you deal with the messiness, and not get overwhelmed by it.
What role does our digital life play?
Finally, I also wonder how digital life affects the need for multiple stories. In theory, our digital life puts us in touch with people from across the globe as individuals, so we should be able to access multiple stories. However, in practice, this does not really happen.
Through the EUMIND network, I’ve had the opportunity to see up close how young learners (13-18y olds) from Europe and India interact with each other through exchanges, both physical exchanges (where they travel to each other’s countries) and digital projects (where they collaborate at a distance on common topics). I have also had the opportunity to interview some of them. One of the things that I observed is that digital life certainly – superficially maybe – seems to minimise the difference between them. They all use WhatsApp and it has a similar role in their social lives, for example. Their general lives after school involve the same activities, entertainment, etc.
So I think there certainly is something like a global culture that seems, at least superficially, to create a single story that belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to. The success of the EUMIND network lies in the fact that in their activities they go past this superficial level, and touch on the differences in such a way that the learners start to understand their own uniqueness and that of their peers.
I wonder what you think about these questions…