While researching for an article this past week, I came across a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the dangers of one story. It got me thinking back to last week and how I was manipulated for years by someone I cared about. Someone I devoted so much of my time to, and someone who shaped me into a belief that he and I were more alike than anyone he’s ever known. I was told stories about his life and the people in it who treated him neglectfully and disrespectfully. As I watched this TED talk by Adichie, I realized I was too late in my understanding and looking back all I know now is that there was more to the story than he was letting on and he was being sneaky about things.
Looking back, I realize there were great dangers of just knowing that one single story and believing it. And the commiserating part of it all now is that she’s living with one story, unaware of every menacing pitfall that is going to follow her.
I’ve been a big fan of TED talks since my little sister, Elizabeth The has been sharing a few really interesting ones with me over the years. As I began research for my next article, I was really excited to feel inspired. After all, last week was the week from hell despite being inducted into the honor society at my university. My personal moments overshadowed my academic and career achievements—but I only blame my heart for that.
While researching, I came across Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk that explores the stories we tell that have an incredible influence in understanding people and places around us. Adichie thoughtfully reveals the dangers of a single story and how it creates an agonizing vulnerability in our lives. In the discussion, she presents herself not only as a victim of a single story that reaps misunderstanding, but also a “victimizer” of people she had heard a single story about.
Importantly enough and resonating with my life in these past few weeks, Adichie points out that a single story is created by presenting people and subjects “as one and only one thing,” suggesting that the power of a story lies in how it is told, who is telling it, when it is told, and how many times it needs to be told. Based on the fact that people are multifaceted and made up of many stories, most times a single story creates its own perception, its own stereotypes and final judgment that in most cases, it is untrue or simply, “incomplete” to the greater picture.
In addition, this TED talk addresses the creation of “the other” in any story told. We share stories to not only acquire knowledge of places we have not been, but for situations we do not understand, or people we have never met. By demonstrating and speaking up on the ways in which our society is a collection of stories and tales, Adichie shares that the most pervasive and controlling stories are those that are manufactured by people with social power—or in my case, manipulators.
For years I was told stories by this individual I loved of how one of the most important relationships in his life was failing him and how someone he trusted and devoted his own life to would treat him like an outsider, while presenting several different faces to those around them. It started sickening him to the point of seeking solace in my company, visiting daily, nightly, intimately. He cared about me, over and over. Showing me. Telling me. It was us against the world and I trusted him with my whole heart. I gave him my whole heart to which he would say it made him happy, he always wanted more and it made him think about things in his life. We talked about traveling together to far off places like Moscow and Tokyo, road trips to Memphis, TN and Colorado, and so much more. Little did I know that what he shared against her with me, he would share against me to her.
It hurt. It still hurts because stupidly enough, I will always love him and he knows this. But for years she was depicted as a controlling, smothering individual and I’ve realized, especially through all my journalism studies, that there are three sides to every story: His, hers, and the truth.
Unfortunately, a liar doesn’t change. They will continue lying to gain sympathy and “love.” And while I feel slightly sorry for the naive individual who is stuck thinking what they see is true from stories, they will always only ever have the appearance of change, yet internally, continue to be who they truly are. Man can only ever change for himself and no one else, no matter how much they love him or however long they’ve been with him—he won’t change. Counseling. Therapy. None of it will work because through a lack of effective discourse and methods of acting, not only is he shaping what is knowable and sayable in any given context for his own selfish gain to these two individuals he claims to care about, but like everything in his life, he is choosing power and manipulation over honesty because of childhood fears that plague him simply because of the history he hopes not to repeat.
If I’m so broken and hurt by him, why am I so chatty in a blog post of all places? Why do I continue? Firstly, it’s cathartic for me because life isn’t fair and hearts break unevenly. It’s been hurtful to me. Everyone needs a mode of healing on their own and as a writer, this is mine and no one will take it from me. Secondly, everyone deserves to know there’s more to the story than what you really think and neither are ever wrong. In any case, both share the truth in their own way but it’s in the eye of the beholder and perception that’s built, and just how much you’re willing to really understand with a brave and unbiased heart. In life, you never know the truth about anything. You only ever know “a” truth. Like the Rashomon effect, there’s always another side to the story even if you’ve been pushed aside to keep silent.
That said, I have my own story and while it hurts and many have devalued my affection in the process just because it doesn’t make sense to them, it doesn’t make it any less of a truth and something I have to live with. Sure admitting there is another side to the story sucks for so many people who live in denial every day with manipulators, but at least it makes you admit that there is something fundamentally wrong in a relationship when someone can be so shady over the years, hiding things, preventing anything from behind found out. Admitting there’s more to one side of the story and sharing it means that at least you were brave enough to know what you deserve.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” can be watched below.