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Culture talk

How Stories Matter

…Onyeulo Noel O.

Because of how close we are to stories, with chuckles; closer than you ever imagine. With Noel, we point you how stories matter, to you as a person and to us as a people.

The great Indian Jesuit priest and Story writer, Anthony de Mello once said that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story. Stories guide human beings in their search for truth and meaning of life.
We should be concerned about the stories we digest because they form part of how we relate with events, peoples and places. Stories are like imaginative vehicles through which we travel to places either factual or fictional. Stories create most times a definitive picture of our believe system; whatever we know about an event, people and places are most often an aftermath of stories we have heard about them. With stories we can wound or heal and we can also create a true or false image of people, place or event. The African writer and story teller, Chimamanda Adichie in one of her stories titled “The Danger of a Single story” quoted the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti who writes that “if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story…” Using a story, you can make a definite picture of peoples, events and places.

However, stories matter! So, to get at true picture of reality we need what the African Star Novelist Chinua Achebe called “Balance of stories”. Not just a “balance of stories” but “a dialogical balance of stories”. A “dialogical balance of stories” is an assessment of all the basic components of a story including its negative and positive occurrences. The basic components of a story include; who told the story? How the story is told? When a story is told? And how many stories are told? All these components provide a kind of dialogical balance to reality and are dependent on one another to proof the veracity of a story. For reality is composed of two opposites (Light and Darkness, White and Black, Rich and Poor etc); so we need a “dialogical balance of stories” to mediate between these opposites in order to give balance to our logic and judgment.
With story, one can unlock the door to reality but cannot do that with a single story. It is dangerous to base ones judgment or logic on a single story because they are incomplete and inequitable. According to Chimamanda, a single story portrays a people as one thing over and over again and has the capacity of making a definite story and picture of another person. For her, the danger of a single story is not only that they are untrue but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
The consequence of a single story is that it robs people of their dignity and makes our recognition of equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes on how we are different rather than how we are similar. For instance, oftentimes some black people have been afraid of talking to or relating with White people either on face to face encounter or social media for fear of racism ranging from the single story told years ago that all whites are racist. But today, some of us are proud to say from “balance of stories” that the greatest unconditional love and favor we have received in life is courtesy of our white friends. They deserve my praise! Also in Nigeria, one of the present social and political unrest in the country is traceable to the danger of a single story; where the Igbo man is only told the negative stories of the Hausa Man and the Hausa Man  in turn, has also come to believe on a single story of the Igbos as his major enemy to rival with. Likewise a South African Zulu indigene with a Swazi; a Kenyan KiKuyu with a Luo and a Rwandan Hutu with Tutsi. Examples abound. Hence, Nigeria, like other places need a “dialogical balance of stories” to define her future and challenges despite her cultural diversity.

Conclusively, we need a kind of “dialogical balance of stories” to regain a paradise in our relationship with people and quest for reality. I wish to conclude with an excerpt from Adichie’s story- “The Danger of a Single Story” which reads; “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to disposes and to malign people. It can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity… when we reject and realize that there is never a single story about any place {people and event}, we regain a kind of paradise”.

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