No Single Story


I have been in a fog these past four days trying to make sense of the election results. One of the ways I process loss is by reading; collecting every bit of information I can so that I can distill from it a lesson. I don’t think it’s just me, but millions of us want to hear the story that explains the Trump/Clinton results.

The narratives getting the most traction are:

1-This election was about lost jobs in the rust belt and the frustration of people who are finding it impossible to get jobs like the ones their grandparents could count on, those that pay well, with no college degree.

2-That Trump voters are not poor, and disenfranchised, but rather white people who are lashing back against political correctness and fear of a way of life—something they haven’t seen since 1950—disappearing.

3-That this was an election about change, no matter who ran against the party currently in power, people wanted something different.

4-That Bernie would have won, that Clinton was a flawed candidate.

5-That the media failed us in regards to every candidate in too many ways to count.

6-The election is a result of people living in insulated bubbles, and unless we get out of these bubbles, we’ll continue to be a split country.

7-That the results are based on the difference between educational level, or income.

8-Pundits and politicians relied too much on polling, and polling didn’t point to where Democrats should have paid attention.

9-That this was a social media/reality show campaign, the likes never seen before.

10-That it’s the Democratic National Committee’s fault.

I could go on and on. I think the mistake I have made in continually searching for the one unifying story—at the expense of sleeping and eating—is thinking there was ONE story that would explain to me what happened. Humans want one story, because that’s easier to understand. However, no single one has stood out, they all seem true to an extent and untrue to another.

As I keep searching for the stories, I remembered the TED talk by Chimanmanda Adichie (viewed by over 11 million people). She talks about how “impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story.” She tells a tale about a boy who worked in her house who she was reminded constantly by her mother that he was poor. When she eventually visited him and his family, she was surprised to see art created in this boys house. Since all she had heard was how poor he was, it was impossible for her to see his family as anything else but poor. Her lesson, if we tell a single story, we lose the possibility of a connection as human equals.

It is important to understand that power is the ability to tell a single story about a person. The press, especially TV news such as CNN, Fox, and the major networks wield this power. They work in stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true, Adichie says, but that they are incomplete.

Watch it. It’s now more relevant to our lives than at any other time.

For years we will be telling many stories about this election, but we need to remember that we will do better for both progressives and conservatives, blue states and red, white and non-white, straight, gay or trans, male and female, immigrant or Native American if we reject the idea of a single story. We need to listen to them all because they all have some truth, just remember that no one has all the truth.

One thought on “No Single Story

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