Recently I watched a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author. In it, she spoke of the danger of telling a single story about a person, place, or people. (You can watch it all here if you’re interested.)
What Chimamanda talked about is how, if we allow ourselves to only learn one thing about someone or something, that becomes our singular narrative about that person, place, or thing. We close ourselves off to the idea that they could do, be, or offer more than that singular piece of information we’ve been repeating to ourselves. In short, single stories create stereotypes.
If you’ve been following this blog for long, you’ll know that one of our missions is to break down the stereotypes that often surround our clients. Whether it’s our residential youth, who are often all painted with the same brush and referred to as “Ranch kids” (frequently, and unfortunately, in a derogatory way), or clients in our community programs who are looked down upon for the actions they may have taken as a result of the issues that brought them to our program – our clients face stereotypes because there is only one story being told about them.
The reality is that there are a million different reasons for folks to end up at Ranch Ehrlo – poverty, trauma, mental health, community, or family issues to name a few. But what’s more important is that their reasons for being here do not comprise who they are. They are more than a single story.
They are resilient, brave, and strong. They come from different places (our referrals come from all over Canada) and have different traditions, backgrounds, and values. They have unique likes and dislikes, talents, and, yes, weaknesses. (As we all do.)
With confidentiality laws protecting their privacy, it can be difficult for us to share some of those unique stories on this blog. We can’t show you a photo of a young man with his football award, or a teenaged girl in her powwow regalia, or a mom who went back to school and got her high school diploma years after dropping out. We can’t share all their happy, sad, or in-between times.
All we can do is encourage you to remember that, like you and me, our clients are multi-dimensional. To focus on one part of their story is to flatten it – to make it mean less. Every person deserves the opportunity to be known for what they truly are, which is so much more than a single story.