when complex situations are reduced to a single narrative
In her 2009 TED talk, author and storyteller Chimamande Ngozi Adichie tells of her childhood growing up in Nigeria. As a child she was inspired to write stories, but having read only British and American children’s literature, all of her characters were white, drank ginger beer and talked about the weather. Because there was very little Nigerian literature it never occurred to her that characters in books could reflect her and her culture. Thus began her learning experience around the dangers inherent in only hearing one story.
When she came the US as a college student, her roommate was surprised to learn that she knew how to use a stove, and that she listened to American music. Adichie came to realise the power of how the story of Africa was told in the west, and that the story of Africa was primarily one “of negatives, of difference and of darkness”. When the complexity of a nation or a complicated situation have been reduced to a single narrative, we do not have a frame of reference to imagine any other story.
Her retelling of her experience led me to reflect on a single story I have been struggling with since I moved to the UK 8 years ago. Let’s see if you are familiar with this story…
Social Care services are failing…services are institutional…services are inefficient…services are in crisis…services cannot be fixed.
To me the single story of social care in the UK is one of dysfunction, instability, and of a paucity of visionary leadership. When I was in social care provision, this story demotivated me because it seemed so pervasive, and so unchangeable, and my desire to create a better service felt pointless. As a potential service user this single story causes me to be concerned that I would not be able to access the services that I need for myself and for those I love. I don’t think I am alone in this concern based on the interactions I have with people with dementia and their loved ones on a daily basis. But this narrative, as with all single stories, is based on stereotyping.
In her talk Adichie reflects that “the single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”. Our continual focus on the negative aspects our social care experience in the UK has led us into this single narrative of despair. But we can combat this, it doesn’t have to be a single story going forward.
I have been fascinated to see how people living with dementia have begun to actively share their own stories to make the narrative of dementia more robust and representative than that of the victim and sufferer, and I wonder, can we do that with our services as well? The stories of services that are meeting people’s needs and providing support in new and more responsive ways are out there. But we need them to be heard. We need those stories to combat the negative narrative around social care. We need to tell those stories to awaken and inspire new leaders to help reshape the services that are struggling and demotivated. And we all need those stories to reassure us all that there is hope for the services we depend on.
We are at a point in our services where it is clear that we need to have leaders who are motivated to create new narratives. To follow the lead of people living with dementia in challenging the single narrative around social care as they work to build stronger services and model those experiences to help others see that it can be done.
A programme to assist you to develop your leadership qualities to promote and enhance quality dementia care.