The Danger of the Only Story

Posted on September 18, 2012

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A few weeks ago I happen to watch the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. This movie had a deeper impart on me much beyond just entertainment. For those of you who have not had the chance to see the movie yet, let me give a brief summary of the movie. The movie is a true story based on the “Rwandan Genocide”. The genocide was the mass killing of some 800,000 people (mostly people of Tutsi community) in Rwanda (in Africa) in 1994. In Rwanda there are two major communities viz. Hutu (in majority) and Tutsi. In April of 1994 president of the country was assassinated by a group of people who happen to be Tutsi. Soon after this event there was a uproar amongst the Hutu people (which was spread by a political party, Hutu Power) who made a propaganda that the Tutsi people are the traitors and they should be wiped out. And thus started the mass killing of Tutsi people in Rwanda. Under this background, the focus of the movie was on Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina was a manager of a 5-star hotel in Kigali (capital of Rwanda) and belonged to the Hutu community. During the genocide he sheltered and protected some 1200 Tutsi from being slaughter. This movie depicts countless acts by Rusesabagina during the genocide for protect of his family and the Tutsi. Years later Rusesabagina received several awards for his humanitarian work. And great is the humbleness and spirit of this man who has constantly said upon asked why he risked so much, “I was simply doing my job as the hotel manager”.

Anyway, the topic of this blog is the common human trait of stereo-typing other people or community. As can be seen in the Rwandan Genocide case, the Hutu people stereo-typed the Tutsi people that all of them are traitors and were destroying the nation. Although, in reality there were a very very tiny fraction of people (from Tutsi community) who were real traitors. According to changingminds.org, stereotyping is a generalization behaviour on a group of people by implementing a common set of characteristics by ignoring personal uniqueness inside this group. Tu such stereo-typing we need not go to Rwanda. All of it is also clearly visible in our own India.

Let me start of first from a jolly visualization adopted from one of the facebook groups. The depiction is as in the figure below.

Now let have a look at this picture in detail and realize this is the kind of stereo-typing we Indians have about the world. India — we like to think we are the number 1 and the best. Pakisthan — we have stereo typed Pakisthani people as terrorist. But is this really true? Are all people from Pakisthan terrorist? Of course not. They are people just like us. In fact very very similar to us in the way they speak, socially. Then next let us take China. We Indian think Chinese goods are worthless and are of worst quality. Now lets come to the facts. China is known as the manufacturer of the world. Almost 50% of the goods used worldwide are manufactured in China. The popular Iphone is manufactured and assembled in China. In this similar manner, I would recommend the reader to have a look at this picture in detail and give a thought on the stereo-typing and the reality.

“All girls are bitches and mean”. This is a fairly common statement/stereo-type by a person who was recently dumped by a girl. Many of the reader of this post may be able to relate to this stereo-type. Sure the girl who dumped this guy has done a horrible thing and is a horrible person. But can the behaviour of this particular girl generalized for all women on this planet? Obviously not. But still, we like to make such stereo-types and worst so believe in it. I am not saying the stereo-types are totally untrue but they are incomplete. It is because you have heard just one story about the group of people. A few more examples come to my mind. There is this stereo-type that Muslims are terrorists. Giving a little thought, you would soon realize that this is just a stereo-type. And the reason it exists in our heads is because we have not heard enough stories about Muslims. May be because we do not have many muslim friends. But fortunately for me I do not carry this particular stereo-type. The reason for this is as follows. During my school days we used to have a moral-science class. And students who were Christians used to attend the bible class and students of other religions (Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Sikh) used to be in another class. During these classes I happen to be friends with several muslims. And as a result of this I have not just one but many many stories about the Muslim community.

There are several such stereo-type that we encounter so many times in daily lives. Some stereo-types are harmless and some stereo-types have brought about a lot of misery and destruction in the world. If we talk of our country, hatred between Hindus and Muslims is a stereo-type. The riots in Gujrat a few years ago was a result of stereo-types. Most of the genocides that have happened in the past were the result of stereo-types.

Now let me point the readers to a TED talk video. The talk is titled “The danger of a single story” by an African novelist Chimamanda Adichie. She has beautifully discussed the topic of stereo-typing or more formally ‘prejudice’. She talks about stereo-types about Africa in the world and further says that these stereo-types may not have been there if there were TV channels or something which told various stories to the world about Africa. In other world ‘Single story about a place or group of people is dangerous’.   The video may be accessed from HERE.

I finally conclude this post by saying that we should try and not judge about a community or a group of people from the actions or the particular stories we hear. We should increase our horizon and educate ourself about different groups of people by knowing more stories about that group and do away with stereo-typing.

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Posted in: Thoughts