At a recent conference on diversity we spent some time on the issue of how we see people. A question was asked about what one should do when one has to interact with people with whom we strongly disagree about core issues. I reflected that I have never come across anyone from whom I could not learn something, no matter what stereotypical box I could slot them into, or what first impressions I might have.
Having a “single story” about those we meet -and even about people we know- can severely hamper our own growth as individuals and certainly gets in the way of developing a positive community in our town.
At our session a black woman spoke about the difficulties of trying to work with a white man who clearly held very different views about race. Over time they learnt more about each other and eventually made a strong connection around children and parenting styles. Taking the time and being open led them to discover what they had in common. This simple outcome immediately challenged their initial views of each other and they ended up working well together.
“Things are usually more complex than people think” – I was once told. The same goes for human beings. Who we are is much more than how other people rate us against single issues that are important to them.
We all have more than one story: He is more than a privileged white male. She is more than a wife. You are more than a feminist. I am more than an African. “They” are more than ……..
Think about yourself and how you would describe all the different facets of who you are. What do you believe about x, y & z? What pain are you going through? What weakness causes you to struggle? What do you hope for? How do you help others? What do you love? What are you unsure about? What gives you joy?
My wish is that more people would pause and just allow others to have as many facets to their lives and to first be fellow humans before we slap a label on them – a label which is often based on our issues, our need to push away what makes us uncomfortable.
This respecting the humanity of others not only reduces conflict and encourages effective community, it also opens up opportunities for each of us to learn more about other ways of thinking and therefore to grow as human beings.
One thing that gets in our way of doing this is not respecting our own diverse humanity, giving ourselves simplified labels and resigning ourselves to a single story. Recognising and embracing all that we are can help us relate to others. Some call it “being authentic”.
For some inspiration meet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and listen to her stories: