It's 4 pm circa 2018; I'm in a somewhat rickety bus on my way home when a fight erupts; a man and a woman who were having a quiet tussle on the third row are now raising their voices at each other, and the man immediately hurls a derogatory term which, we are all so familiar with in Nigeria at the woman. She instantly goes quiet, and in the same breath, I lose my mind and raise my voice.
I think about this day a lot, for many different reasons – but mostly for how differently it would have played if I had lost my voice and not my mind that day. The same principle applies today when we speak about narratives.
Human life is centred around storytelling and communication - it takes centre stage in our day-to-day life; we are literally moving stories waiting to be told, and it is why storytelling is perhaps one of the greatest means of impact. Reflect on this for a minute, and just then you will realise how many stories you have consumed even without your permission.
Stories - they are the little chit-chat you overhear from two goofy teenagers on the bus gushing about random nothings; the market woman that ‘gists’ you about her daughter graduating with a first-class; the chat you have with colleagues over lunch, radio ads, tv ads, tales from grandma, testimonies at church, random bits and pieces everywhere.
If you probe further, you will find that many times, you have retold or listened to these stories belonging to other people. You have told a loved one about the gist you heard on a train, or you have been told about a market woman who has raised a first-class graduate. What you may not ordinarily be aware of, are the perceptions and belief systems that you have formed as a result of these stories you have consumed. You tell yourself you don’t like a certain place or person, and you add ‘I’m not sure why’ or ‘for no reason at all', but perhaps you have a reason, perhaps it’s the content that you have passively consumed without giving it a second thought.
Finding our voice is very important. It’s building audacity and morale to speak up, to oppose and counter with intelligent debate. It’s not leaving stories to chance and being restless about the untruths that exist.
Over time, this passive content shapes your impression, perception, and belief and becomes your narrative, your unlived experience, and the narrative you pass on to those around you, with the cycle continuing from one person to the other until this narrative becomes the 'truth'.
Stories are much more than we make them out to be - they create our truth and could be unintentionally dangerous. It’s little wonder why the Nigerian Author, Chimamanda Adiche, emphasises the danger of a single story. These single stories are the foundation of harmful stereotypes.
Narratives matter, stories matter, and there is no other way to say this.
It matters to our individual and collective existence and impacts our shared experiences. We need to be more deliberate about the stories that we tell, and research ways to promote shared narratives. We need to actively participate in storytelling – no one tells our stories better than we do, so why outsource something that important?
We need to find our voice.
Finding our voice is very important. It’s building audacity and morale to speak up, to oppose and counter with intelligent debate. It’s not leaving stories to chance and being restless about the untruths that exist. Like the story earlier shared, I am immensely grateful that I did not lose my voice, more than that, I am grateful that my courage to speak gave more women in that bus the courage to speak as well. This is what happens even with a lone voice, your flames can light many candles.
There are many opportunities today to tell our stories. There are many apps, platforms, and mediums to do this. The interesting fact about today is that there is never a better time to start. It’s always day one.
As I conclude, I encourage you to take some time out of your busy day to reflect. Reflect on the stories you have heard and told – imagine how these stories have framed your beliefs; weigh your truth against the truth and check yourself for unconscious biases.
Change begins with self.
“No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words.” ― Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light