Monday, December 9, 2013

The Importance of Storytelling

Hi All,

As you have seen in the movie by Tom Shadya, I Am, which we have partly watched in class (http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/i_am_2010/),  the stories we tell our selves have a crucial influence on how we define who we are - including our values and belief systems. All traditional cultures have been aware of this  and therefore been telling sacred stories (= myths in the anthropological meaning of the word as 'sacred stories') about their views of the creation of the universe, important cultural and scientific insights, and central cultural values. These sacred stories would then be passed on from generation to generation in order to communicate and teach this important knowledge.

Storytelling - and this includes the creation of fictional movies (such as I Am) - can thus also be used as a tool to change our awareness of who we are, i.e. our identity as a cultural group or even as a species.

Please think about this topic - and share your reflections on any aspect of it with the rest of us. You are also welcome to share your favourite creation story or to comment on the TED talks below, which are about this very interesting - and always current - topic:

Chimamanda Adichie, "The Danger of a Single Story":
http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Elif Shafak, "The Politics of Fiction":
http://www.ted.com/talks/elif_shafak_the_politics_of_fiction.html

Chris Abani, "Telling Stories form Africa":
http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_abani_on_the_stories_of_africa.html

Thank you!

Gudrun


21 comments:

  1. I watched the first TED talk with Chimamanda Ngozi and I found her fascinating. She talked about how often in life we hear the "single story" or in other words, only one side of the story that can lead to the formation of quick judgements and stereotypes. She talked about growing up in a middle-class family in Nigeria and how people in America were shocked and not accepting of the fact that she did not live in poverty in Africa. I did not find this surprising. In our western culture many of the stories we hear about Africa are negative. They are stories about poverty, disease, war and famine.

    Ngozi talks about how powerful stories are, but how dangerous a single one can be. I think I really learnt about this when I came to UBC. I was born in Canada and I've never been outside North America, so when I started meeting people from all over the world I remember being shocked about their experiences. I gained so many new perspectives from the stories they had to tell. In particular, one of my best friends is from Kenya and like Ngozi he came from a middle-class family. He went to a good school, lived in a safe home, and many of his favourite singers and films are American. He is very different from what I would of ever imagined.

    I think the video also had an interesting parallel to the "I Am" movie. Since Darwin, humans have adopted this idea that we must compete to survive, but once again they read the single story. They didn't listen to what Darwin had to say about love and compassion. I think it's true that we can accomplish so much more by learning to cooperate.

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  2. I very much enjoyed watching the this TED talk by Ngozi. She used many great examples to support her point. The point that I perceived from this TED talk was to always keep an open mind. Ngozi said the danger of a single video robs a person of their dignity. And I find that is one of the most powerful statements from the whole TED talk. Everyone in society jumps to conclusions so quickly. For example, putting aside third world countries aside, we could focus just on different areas of British Columbia. We are so quick to judge where people come from. If you are from mainland vancouver, people automatically think you're well off. If you're from the east side, you're considered middle class, and so on. And probably in most cases, that is true. But who cares? Why would you define someone that way. That shouldn't make you treat anyone differently, and I think thats when the "losing your dignity" point applies. When you are so quick to judge where someone is from, and apply false assumptions to who they are, that person immediately has been set to some sort of standards in your eyes. Keep your mind open, whoever and wherever they come from, and see who the person is instead of putting your judgements of where they are from.

    Everyone has hardships in their life, and of course they are at different levels but so what? Everyone will have ups and downs, and everyone should be treated equally when being helped with them. No judgements should be made on how each person deals with their own difficulties, if you want to get involved or ask, you should be there for support. This point was clear when Ngozi spoke about the hardships that she experienced throughout her life, but when she spoke about them she didn't speak about them as if they were something that she wanted pity for. She didn't compare it to any one others, she solely just applied the challenges to herself and how it made her the person she is today. This is admirable and I think that many people should think about more.

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  3. I think that story telling is a very important part of discovering who we are spiritually and culturally.
    I remember my grandmother telling me about her life and how it was 'back in the day' in Greece. She would tell me stories of how she had an arranged marriage when she was 18 and gave birth to my mom when she was 19. How she then became a housewife, but all she wanted to do was go to school and get a job as a seamstress. She also talked about Greek traditions in my family, like sewing a white table cloth for your daughter to have when she got married or only planting new things in the garden when the moon is filling (or else your plants will not grow). I also remember my grandfather telling me about the war and the awful conditions he had to live through. When there were days where he had to go a whole week with only a loaf of bread. He also took me up to the house he lived in as a child, to get a better picture of the stories he was telling me.
    When I was little, I only thought of them as myths and stories, but now I realize how it has shaped me as a person. To this day, I follow certain traditions that my grandmother taught me, like making certain cookies called 'melomakarona' on Christmas to keep bad spirits away or wearing 'a blue glass eye' necklace to protect me from the evil eye. I will never forget these stories, because they taught me about my culture. They also made me appreciate my heritage and all the things I have in my life that I take for granted every day.

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    1. Excellent, Demi! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. I watched the first TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story" and believe the points that Chimamanda Adichie we all need to keep in mind. We always need to keep an open mind like Christie said and view a situation from all its perspectives to be able to see the true picture. Only then can we see the real problems. For example we think that homeless people are out begging on the streets because they are too lazy to work and unable to learn the right skills. But we forget to see their side of the story. Maybe they grew up in a poor family, were abused or simply had a bit of bad luck in life. It could happen too anyone. It could happen to me and you.
    I think it helps us to try to "put ourself in someone else's shoes". Imagining and feeling how it would be to be that person can allow us to understand them much more. If we did that every day we would all be a lot kinder to another and act with empathy.

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    1. I very much agree with you there. "Putting yourself in someone else's shoes" is crucial!

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  5. I watched the TED talks and I believe anecdotal experiences are a great way of introspection. Through story telling we are able to place things into perspectives on how these said experiences relate to every day scenarios. Through the stories of my parents, I was able to learn the history of my family and the difficulties they faced growing up. As a result, I was able to avoid certain scenarios and educate myself of my own cultural heritage. Furthermore, I am more grateful for many things and I strive to make my parents proud as they persevered through harder times in order to provide me a fortunate future. As winter season is coming along, there are homeless people that are facing troubles and we should not be judging. Instead, we should take initiative in order to help others. These homeless people are often brushed off in society because there are many notions of drug abuse they did not do anything productive growing up. However, these people also have stories and we should keep an open mind in that they may not have the same opportunities as we do. These homeless people may not have had great parental guidance, or they may have experienced unforeseen stresses growing up. It is not in our position to hate on their well-being but rather do what we can in order to prevent future scenarios in which homeless people are treated as helpless. Although we can imagine being in their position, we still are not able to fully judge them on their troubles as we have never actually been in their position. We must keep this open mind with us throughout life in order to refrain from such biased notions. We can further develop this chain by telling these stories or what we have learned from other stories so we can branch out our education system. Through cooperation, anecdotes and story telling can lead to a greater understanding.

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    1. Very important, points, Michael! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. I have just watched the first TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi. I find her topic and view point very interesting. She talked about stereotyping in our modern society. We cannot ignore the fact that people like to stereotype and make quick judgments of each other of little information that we know. I believe this is our instinct of survival. In the united states people already have a set state of mind that countries in Africa are mostly economical less developed countries. Therefore, they cannot believe the fact that Chimamanda did not live in poverty in Nigeria. Infact, she lived in a middle-class family which did not deal with the negative problems that Americans often hear from the news.

    I am very thankful that i had the opportunity to travel around the world and meet different types of people. When i was in high school i studied in an international school which opened my eyes to the world and different cultures by meet people from different backgrounds. I believe given this opportunity, I can understand that every individual is different and we cannot judge an individual from where that person is from or the skin color.
    For example, being an Asian people automatically assume that i like to eat rice, in fact i don't like to eat rice very much. an other example would be, people assuming that being a canadian he/she must be a hockey fan which is not always ture. I learned that we cannot put these assumptions and links between people. we live in a modern world, and we should but these stereotypes aside and learn to accept each other.

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    1. Excellent comments, Matthew! I agree with every single word you wrote! Thank you very much for sharing!

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  7. I watched the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called "The Danger of a Single Story" where she talks about how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story. She talks about how all of us unknowingly let single stories impact our views on certain subjects. My favorite example that Adichie used to explain this was when she moved from Nigeria to America to go to university, where her roommate thought of her and treated her like a poor, helpless "African," neglecting the fact that Africa is a continent, not a country, and all kinds of different people (wealthy/poor, educated/illiterate) lived there, just like in the United States.

    Although the single story that is read or seen or heard can be completely and flawlessly true, it is not the entire truth. Bits and pieces or sometimes even huge chunks are missing compared to reality.As Adichie's states, singles stories are very dangerous as they can easily create false impressions of something.

    Adichie's main theme in this TED talk was that we let single stories of a very broad topic create stereotypes in our mind. What she said was that "the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

    All of us are quick to judge. Maybe it's human nature, but we are all quick to form biased opinions based on certain stereotypes we read or see or hear about. Often, the whole story is not looked at right away. Instead, judgement is based on a single story. A short, simple, story. But what we need to always remember is that that's not how everything works. An entire topic cannot be summed up in a single story told by a single person.

    If we want to progress as a community, stereotypes need to start being pushed aside to allow us to grow together.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your excellent comments, Jasleen!

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  9. I watched Elif Shafak's talk and at first was taken aback at how eloquent her speaking style is. Within the first minute, I wanted to hear more about what she wanted to say and didn't shift my attention elsewhere until she was done. I absolutely loved the way she represented her ideas and used the the symbol of a circle throughout her talk. I just wanted to comment on her talking style because most authors don't know how to talk in front of a large crowd, but she was very entrancing!

    In her talk, Elif Shafak talks of how when people read her books, they forget that she's a writer of fiction; they begin to blend the identities of the characters in her books with the writer who created them. This, Shafak stresses, is unfair to her as a writer. She does not want to be politically categorized when her works are being read. She wants her imagination to be focused on, and only that, when her books are being read.She doesn't intend for her characters to symbolize a culture, a language or a nation; it would be completely unfair to them. Nor does she want to elaborate on stereotypes, the characters in her books are only that: characters. She talks of how we shouldn't mistake fiction for non-fiction because when authors write, it is true to their genre. I completely agree with her point here because when we read poems or stories, we often associate the writer with the person whose perspective that specific composition is from, and it is unfair to the author to do that. Of course, there may be certain elements seeping from the author's mind subconsciously that might remind us of the author, but overall fiction should be about the composition itself, not necessarily the person who wrote it.

    Towards the end of the talk, she talks of how literature should take us "beyond ourselves" and gave the example of Rumi's spiritual companion throwing Rumi's books into water and watching the words on the pages dissolve. Good literature is one that takes us beyond ourselves, in that it makes us experience foreign feelings and implants unthinkable ideas into our heads. Literature should encourage a person to experience the world and meet new people, even if it is only in the books that we read. Literature is something that should make you grow every time the words ease off of your lips and into your mind. It is something that makes you question your world.

    She quotes that " knowledge that doesn't take you beyond yourself is worse than ignorance". This quote really emphasizes her point that true knowledge is that which makes you question, think and yearn for more. Knowledge isn't memorizing a bunch of facts and regurgitating them at the next cocktail party, and just like knowledge, literature is something that should make you think beyond your already established horizons. Every time we learn something new, it should push that boundary, form a new horizon and make us lust after the further expansion of that newly formed horizon.

    She also talks about how in creative writing classes now days, the instructors tell students to write about what they know, when they should be writing about what they don't know and about what they feel. Imaginative literature isn't about what we know, it's about experiencing new things and exploring the unknown, and that is what fiction really is.

    I really loved this talk! Thanks so much for posting it up, Gudrun!

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    1. You are welcome, Mahira! Thanks a lot for sharing your very interesting insights about this topic!

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  10. After watching the TED talk by Ngozi, I found myself replaying parts of the talk in my head and wanted to watch it again. Ngozi used many strong examples to prove her point and they had lots of power in them. From this TED talk I learned that I should always keep a clear mind and know what I am always thinking. To learn to control my thoughts and not let my thoughts overwhelm me. The strongest statement I found from this TED talk was “the danger of a single video robs a person of their dignity.” When I heard that I could relate to it so easily. Nowadays on the internet, it’s so easy for anyone to post a hate comment or video promoting hate towards a certain crowd/person. People in society are way too stereotypical and judge others way before they even get to know them. Just looking at our city, in Greater Vancouver, if you say you’re Asian you’re assumed to be from Richmond or Vancouver area. If you say you’re from downtown of West Vancouver, people automatically assume you live an above average lifestyle and if you seem to dressed less nicely, people automatically assume you’re poor. It’s stupid how society makes it that way, but it’s been going on for too long and no one has done anything to stop it. It is completely wrong to do that so that is why we should keep a clear mind. Stop judging people before you get to know them. There are so many clichés out there like “don’t judge a book by its cover” or “you know my name, not my story. You’ve heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.” But all of these clichés are true. In society, we jump to the thoughts and stereotypes we all know of too quickly. Everyone has hard times throughout life. Whether it be a small problem to you, it could be a very big problem to the person facing it so stop judging. We shouldn’t judge someone just because the hardship they’re currently going through didn’t seem as serious as the hardships you’ve gone through or previously saw. When Nyogi was talking about the hardships she went through, she didn’t talk about things that brought her down. No, instead she talked about them as things to be proud of and obstacles that she overcame. I show respect to her for that because not everyone can just look at their problems in life and deal with them so easily. i really enjoyed this video and it really showed me the different hardships that others have to face. When i compare the hardships of others with the ones that I have, mine seem like nothing compared to those. This TED talk really opened my eyes to the world and my mind.

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    1. Excellent comments, Philip! Thank you very much for sharing them with us!

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  11. I watched the “The Danger of A Single Story”, and want to share my experience, It’s really easy for people to make quick judgment depending on limited information. This is maybe because that people try to explain all things with which they have already known. When I just got Vancouver, once I went climbing with a group of people. One of them was a Chinese, so I went to her and talk Chinese to her directly. However, I found that she grow up here and did not know how to speak Chinese. I easily get to the idea that “Chinese people can speak Chinese”, but forget that everyone has different experience and living situation. Now I know that most Chinese who go aboard when they were a child or born here can’t speak Chinese. Another example is that I though every western people is very tall before getting Vancouver. Since I was only 153cm, I was afraid that it will be inconvenient. However I found that people here are not as tall as I imagined. Many girls are in the same level as me such as my lovely American roommate. Therefore, we need to have passion for searching more information getting a whole picture of the situation, or there will be misunderstanding and improper actions. “Single story” also limit our thought and make us label different group of people leading to stereotype. We always think that African are poor, but maybe some of them are rich since even the most peace country have crime. There are not certainty. We need to think critically and identify that everyone is totally different.

    Storytelling is can help us to keep our history alive from generation to generation, and spread the traditional value system to us. Though my family’s living condition has been improved a lot, my parents still alway tell me their bad living conditions when they were a child. They compared their environment with mine and wanted me to treasure my current life. Though we are wealthy now, we can’t forget our hard time and need to consider it as a unique experience which will good for our future.

    However I think nowadays, most teenagers from all over the world watch the same American films, listen the same popular music. They only care the global stories instead of their own cultures and history. Therefore, I think we need to emphasize on the spread of the history stories.

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  12. Very true, Huiyang! Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts!

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