The danger of a single story

I’ve recently listened to a fascinating speech on TED. The main idea was that our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories. If we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. If we show a people as one thing – as only one thing – over and over again, then that is what they become. So Chimamanda Adichie’s belief is that the single story creates stereotypes, and ‘the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story’.

Immediately a thought popped into my head: all the time I hear the same story about Romania: poverty, prostitution, communism. Not to mention that most of the people in Europe think Romanians are gypsies and this really pushes me over the edge. Not that I have something against gypsies, but guys, you really need to learn some history! Needless to say, these are misconceptions coming from narrow-minded people who see life through foggy lenses. And what strikes me is that these people who dare pointing fingers haven’t even set foot in this country. I would strongly advise them to live in Romania for a while and perhaps afterwards they will be able to form an opinion.

That being said, I admit Romania is struggling with plenty of issues, with regards to justice, economy, health care and so on. But let’s not open a Pandora’s Box, suffice it to say that things are not exactly in the pink. And before we rush to say that Romania is behind most European countries, let’s not forget that our dear West left us to the Soviets and that, in any case, wealth shouldn’t be our benchmark or our God.

As far as I’m concerned, every country has its downsides and I see no need for us to become the bellmen of gloominess. And, more importantly, I see no need for people to generalize or spread biased information. If a low IQed American crossed my path, would it be fair to say that all of them are alike?

Furthermore, why doesn’t anyone ‘tweet’ about the good stuff? There’s a lot more to it than Inna and Dracula’s castle. There are breathtaking landscapes. There are warm and friendly people. There are genius students who won gold at the International Mathematical Olympiad. And the list goes on. Let’s stop being raised by a TV and give ourselves a chance to actually see how a people and culture really are, before we rush to judge. The way I see it, the things we say and how we say them reflect our own character.

Now, obviously I’m not saying all this because I’m Romanian. Not at all! I’m not patriotic. Never was and never will be. Neither am I saying this from my own experience – luckily I’ve mainly met warmhearted and open-minded people when I lived abroad for about five years. Nonetheless, it’s very disturbing to witness such a high degree of generalization and such shallow thinking. We have to start dispelling the idea that certain issues characterize a country as a whole.

So I would like to remind all those stereotype-loving people in the world that there is never only a single version about any place. And, as C.A. says, it’s impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The fact of limiting ourselves to clichés emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. And, obviously, we are different, but I reckon in a globalized world we should focus more on how similar we are in our wondrous diversity.

It may well be that I’ve been off in never-never-land today or that I’m a hopeless dreamer. Or perhaps I just have a small bit of faith… Faith that someday we won’t be Italians, Americans, French or Romanians. Faith that someday we’ll be just… people.

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