The man who lives in that house is obviously an axe murderer.You can tell because the garden is overgrown and the house needs a coat of paint. Its obvious isn’t it? Whatever you do, cross the street, keep quiet and don’t walk past that house.
That woman drives a Volvo, she’d have to be pretty boring. She’d also be a bad driver who works as a scientist at the CSIRO and plays lawn bowls.
Have you ever formed an opinion of your neighbour based on a single conversation, or the type of car they drive, their garden, their house, the clothes they wear, the job they do. Have you ever had the good fortune to then go on and chat to them and discover you were completely wrong?
From the moment we are born, we begin forming beliefs, understandings and subsequently our culture. The first touch, sound and smell from our mother is our first belief- this is my source of security, love and food. We learn to accept and process most information that is given to us, unchallenged even by curiosity. As we grow older, if we believe the information is from a credible source, then we set that information in stone as a belief. We then categorise ‘like’ people/things and project that belief immediately upon them until we are pleasantly surprised or reluctantly proven wrong about them. This is a perilous habit we take with us through life.
I recently watched a really great Ted Talk on The Danger of a Single Story. It got me thinking yet again about culture and how we form our beliefs and then act the way we do.
What is a Single Story?
It’s taking your preconceived understanding of a situation or a person, and using it indiscriminately to define them. We all do it, come on. You don’t? Hang on, let me give the Pope a call, I’ve found another saint.
If you don’t believe me, I recommend you take a ride in a taxi, all is not as it seems
I make it a habit to have a conversation with every taxi driver I meet. Not because I need to, although I do think it’s polite to make an attempt, but because it’s invariably really interesting. Some of the most interesting conversations I have had with people I didn’t know, have been with taxi drivers. They rarely have a single story. Recalling a small handful, there was:
- the Fijian gentleman in Brisbane who was an Electrical Engineer who lectured at TAFE but had simply lost interest in it;
- the Macedonian Gentleman in Melbourne who went back and forward between taxi driving and welding, a trade he’d followed his father into (he had a great veggie garden and three kids);
- the Bangladeshi gentleman in Sydney with a double degree in his home country but was unable to qualify and get a related job in Australia;
- the Australian gentleman in Melbourne, a senior manager in the mines in Broken Hill who had never even been in a taxi when he purchased a taxi license in his 50’s for a life change (he loved his taxi); and as interesting as any of them was
- the old Greek gentleman in Sydney who’d been driving taxis since 1966 (48 years).
Nothing is as it seems. And thank goodness, otherwise life would be very boring.
Incidentally, when I was growing up, there was always famine in Bangladesh. We saw it on our TV continually. I grew up believing every Bangladeshi, was poor, starving and terribly thin. Educated – they couldn’t be. What an ignoramus was I?
Don’t judge a book by its cover
The TV program The Voice, is a great example of countering the prejudices formed by a Single story (first impressions) scenario. Each of the judges is made to shed their beliefs and select contestants based solely on their vocal talent. The boy who speaks with a debilitating stutter, but sings fluently, gets a gig as a rock star. The girl who is as beautiful as she is blind is judged for her voice alone. The same two contestants, under different circumstances might well have been dismissed or selected based upon perceptions and prejudices that influence the judges’ beliefs, opinions and motivations. I think the bonus is, it turns out that often their stories are far more interesting than their talents.
The same circumstances play out every day in the unedited reality program of our lives. The person sitting on the train opposite you transforms from your impression of them as a cranky old crone, when their face lights up with a phone call from a family member or friend, the young lady who makes you a coffee mentions she is travelling the world. Think back to a time when you first met someone with whom you had to work closely with for a period of time. Your first impression (which is largely based on a single story assumption) is nearly always significantly different to your impression, days, weeks and months later.
A quick funny story
A friend of mine was telling his very elderly wheel chair bound neighbour how oppressive the heat had been recently, wearing his suit and tie on a business trip up in Asia, when the neighbour agreed with him and recalled his days as a prisoner in Changi in the Second World War.
Nothing is what it seems and no one is just one Single Story
If you haven’t got a book to read, or a movie to watch, ask someone about themselves, it’s free and often more interesting.
Please comment and tell us how different people have been startling revelations on closer acquaintance.