Since the turn of the new year my head has been full of stories, from catching films to TED talks. I survived the visceral cinematic experience of 1917, a perfect story arc of heroes and villains, a mission set, journey travelled and resolution reached.
It made me think about whose story this was. The film-maker Sam Mendes’ or his grandfather’s, whose experiences inspired it? Or is it our story because our perceptions shape the narrative? Perhaps it’s all three.
In her TED talk “The danger of a single story”, the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently explains how stories can be used to dispossess and malign or empower and humanise. The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.
A true understanding of the world is built not from a single story, but from multiple stories that help us recognise our shared humanity and emphasise our similarities rather than our differences.
Charities recognise this power. They amplify people’s stories to capture the diversity of viewpoints and the authenticity of experience. The food bank charity the Trussell Trust recently experimented with using a Twitter thread to help combat stereotypes about poverty. It shared people’s stories from its #5WeeksTooLong campaign and invited people to explore how they would stay afloat without money in the five-week wait for their first universal credit payment.
Innovative and engaging, the thread helped to rewrite the poverty story and confound misconceptions.
How stories are told, when they are told and who tells them matters. As the old African proverb says, “until the lion tells the story of the hunt, the glory is the hunter’s”.
Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms