Thursday, March 25

Danger of a Single Lens

You may already be familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. She explains this danger in a number of ways including the story of an encounter with a young American man who presumed that all Nigerian men were of a particular type based on the reading of her first book, Purple Hibiscus. Adichie replied, though she probably retorted, that having just read American Psycho she was sorry to hear that all young American men are serial killers. 
The danger of a single story.

Just recently I was reminded of the danger of a single lens.

I was asked to send some information for a "getting to know you" game. I'm not a fan of such games; I never have been. And so, somewhat churlishly, I replied with my answers. There was, however, one question that caused me considerable pause because I realized I really did not know how to answer it because I knew I could not answer it completely honestly.

At first glance, it's a simple question and non-threatening: What did you get in trouble for as a child?

From a certain perspective, it's a completely innocent question. If my childhood had been one with somewhat typical difficulties, it's a simple question. Maybe I got in trouble for stealing cookies from the cookie jar. Or maybe I got in trouble for picking on my sibling. Or maybe I got in trouble for writing my sister's initials on the carpet in chalk and blaming it on her even though she could not yet read or write. Actually, that did happen and it took my mother a few steps away to realize that my sister could not have written her initials on the carpet.  Now that I think of it, I could have shared that one because it did not end as badly as some other things did and most of the time, those are the things that come to mind. 

The challenge is that I often seemed to get in trouble for no apparent reason. That's not to say I was a perfect child because I was far from it. But my mother was wicked quick with a wicked backhand and often equally quick with a beating and sometimes it seemed I bore the brunt of her rage simply for walking in the door.

But the game questions reminded me of the times I'd made assumptions about a group of people because of who they are now, because of where we were, because of the type of gathering we were, etc. That list could be long.

We are often surprised when someone doesn't fit whatever we have preconceived or who has a background or experience that seems to be outside of whatever lines we have drawn.

It was simply a subtle but powerful reminder to me that it is dangerous to imagine that even like-minded people have seen or experienced the world in the same way.

It is a reminder of the value and importance of being willing to see the world from someone else's perspective, and realizing that even those we think are like us may actually have a very different set of experience, a very different lens through which they have viewed and experienced the world.

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