Updated: Feb 27
Stories can be so many different things, they can be sad, happy, exciting and traumatic. There is, in particular, one speech about sharing stories that inspires me the most, it is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Speech from 2009 called: “The Danger of a Single Story”, which you can find on YouTube (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg). Maybe you have seen it? If not, I highly recommend to watch it because it has a very deep message.
In a very descriptive & humorous way, Chimamanda tells her stories that point out to the need to look behind our one-dimensional prejudices and understand we all carry more than one story with us. She also emphasizes that there is a danger if we only focus on the idea of one person carrying one story, because then we only let misconceptions/incomplete stereotypes separate us.
There is one spot in her speech I really like because it touches cultural dimensions that I personally can relate to, when she describes how she wrote about eating apples in the snow in Nigeria, even though in reality in Nigeria you eat mangoes and there is only sunshine no snow in Nigeria. She used this to symbolically show how much she was influenced by the English literature as a kid and how much it enriched her life.
Since I already have written about my cultural background (see my post About myself & this page), I would like to describe some personal stories that reveal a lot about me as a person and my life: In 1990, I was in the 3rd grade American Elementary School in the American barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. This was during the Gulf War. I remember when a woman came to our school to hold a presentation. She told us about how there are cultural differences in the Middle East by telling us stories and I remember how she explained that some hand gestures mean something else there than in the US. At the end of her presentation, she was holding this long black cloak & veil that covers the face and talked about women wearing it in Saudi Arabia. Then she turned to us kids in the audience, asking us who would be interested in trying it on and guess who wanted to try it on? Yup, that was me.
The second example takes place in the German Elementary School. I didn’t start speaking German until the age of 10 and it took me many years to learn it well enough. I remember when I had to introduce myself to my German classmates in the 4th grade. I could only do it in English and nobody understood me which made me feel very awkward. I didn't realize it at the time that in Germany you don't learn English until the 5th grade. Interestingly enough, I could write a book about the differences and similarities between Germany & the US and that too would all be based on my personal stories living in both countries and cultures.
If we dig deeper into the history of storytelling, we can discover that they started out as visual stories when they were drawn in caves 30,000 years ago or in hieroglyphs in pyramids about 5,000 years ago. These depictions brought about symbols that were associated with certain meanings. After that, these visual stories started to spread from generation to generation by word of mouth. These turned into narratives that were written down as legends, myths and fairy tales. Nowadays, we have even more tools to express ourselves & share valuable information to those around us, especially via social media.
When I think back in my life, I feel that whenever I would get together with classmates, friends and family around the table for a meal or around the campfire, that’s when the most interesting stories would be shared. And when this happens in a different country or with the interaction of someone coming from a different country, it becomes even more captivating - at least to me.
One of the things I noticed about myself and storytelling is that I have always been fascinated about it and view it as a way of taking the chance to understand people who are different than myself. As a Cultural Scientist/Anthropologist, you base your findings on qualitative research not quantitative research. With qualitative research, I mean research which is based more on a personal and cultural interaction than numbers. It's all about the person you are dealing with. Whenever I interviewed someone during my research projects & fieldwork, I often used narrative interviews so the interviewees can share their stories with me. When I analyzed their interview material, I would portray each individual as a special case study. The reason behind this is to give them that respect and space of them expressing who they are, with their perspective and what is important to them - maintaining their authenticity.
What happens when you are the one telling the story? You are actually revealing a lot about yourself, your values and ethics, your perception on life & the world around you. Now, what if you are the listener? In that case, the story you hear from someone might be teaching you a lesson or it is making you question your own thoughts and opinions so you can form your own conclusions. It’s actually a learning opportunity, if you think about it.
The stories we share with each other are what helps us make sense of the world. It is critical for our self development, sense of wellbeing and our identity. By sharing a story you create community among strangers or you create a stronger bond between those you already know.
Imagine you would have no story to tell, wouldn’t that be sad & boring? In reality, all of us have our multiple stories, some are easier to share than others and some are more amusing than others. Sharing stories goes deeper than just the words you hear.
I encourage you today to take that extra step and share more of your stories with each other. Not only with those you know but also with those you don’t know!