TED全球问题:Sisonke Msimang: If a story moves you, act on it

So earlier this year,I was informed that I would bedoing a TED Talk.So I was excited, then I panicked,then I was excited, then I panicked,and in between the excitementand the panicking,I started to do my research,and my research primarily consistedof Googling how to give a great TED Talk.


And interspersed with that,I was Googling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.How many of you know who that is?


So I was Googling herbecause I always Google herbecause I'm just a fan,but also because she always hasimportant and interesting things to say.And the combination of those searcheskept leading me to her talkon the dangers of a single story,on what happenswhen we have a solitary lensthrough which to understandcertain groups of people,and it is the perfect talk.It's the talk that I would have givenif I had been famous first.


You know, and you know,like, she's African and I'm African,and she's a feminist and I'm a feminist,and she's a storytellerand I'm a storyteller,so I really felt like it's my talk.


So I decided that I was goingto learn how to code,and then I was going to hack the internetand I would take down all the copiesof that talk that existed,and then I would memorize it,and then I would come hereand deliver it as if it was my own speech.So that plan was going really well,except the coding part,and then one morning a few months ago,I woke upto the news that the wifeof a certain presidential candidatehad given a speech that —



that sounded eerily like a speechgiven by one of my other faves,Michelle Obama.


And so I decided that I shouldprobably write my own TED Talk,and so that is what I am here to do.I'm here to talk aboutmy own observations about storytelling.I want to talk to youabout the power of stories, of course,but I also want to talkabout their limitations,particularly for those of uswho are interested in social justice.

So since Adichie gave that talkseven years ago,there has been a boom in storytelling.Stories are everywhere,and if there was a dangerin the telling of one tired old tale,then I think there has got to belots to celebrate about the flourishingof so many stories and so many voices.Stories are the antidote to bias.In fact, today, if you are middle classand connected via the internet,you can download storiesat the touch of a buttonor the swipe of a screen.You can listen to a podcastabout what it's liketo grow up Dalit in Kolkata.You can hear an indigenousman in Australiatalk about the trials and triumphsof raising his children in dignityand in pride.Stories make us fall in love.They heal rifts and they bridge divides.Stories can even make it easier for usto talk about the deathsof people in our societieswho don't matter,because they make us care.Right?

I'm not so sure,and I actually work for a placecalled the Centre for Stories.And my job is to help to tell storiesthat challenge mainstream narrativesabout what it means to be blackor a Muslim or a refugeeor any of those other categoriesthat we talk about all the time.But I come to this workafter a long historyas a social justice activist,and so I'm really interested in the waysthat people talkabout nonfiction storytellingas though it's aboutmore than entertainment,as though it's about beinga catalyst for social action.It's not uncommon to hear people saythat stories makethe world a better place.Increasingly, though, I worrythat even the most poignant stories,particularly the stories about peoplewho no one seems to care about,can often get in the wayof action towards social justice.Now, this is not becausestorytellers mean any harm.Quite the contrary.Storytellers are often do-gooderslike me and, I suspect, yourselves.And the audiences of storytellersare often deeply compassionateand empathetic people.Still, good intentionscan have unintended consequences,and so I want to propose that storiesare not as magical as they seem.So three — becauseit's always got to be three —three reasons why I thinkthat stories don't necessarilymake the world a better place.

Firstly, stories can createan illusion of solidarity.There is nothinglike that feel-good factor you getfrom listening to a fantastic storywhere you feel like youclimbed that mountain, right,or that you befriendedthat death row inmate.But you didn't.You haven't done anything.Listening is an importantbut insufficient steptowards social action.

Secondly, I think often we are drawntowards characters and protagonistswho are likable and human.And this makes sense, of course, right?Because if you like someone,then you care about them.But the inverse is also true.If you don't like someone,then you don't care about them.And if you don't care about them,you don't have to see yourselfas having a moral obligationto think about the circumstancesthat shaped their lives.

I learned this lessonwhen I was 14 years old.I learned that actually,you don't have to like someoneto recognize their wisdom,and you certainlydon't have to like someoneto take a stand by their side.So my bike was stolenwhile I was riding it —


which is possible if you'reriding slowly enough, which I was.


So one minuteI'm cutting across this fieldin the Nairobi neighborhoodwhere I grew up,and it's like a very bumpy path,and so when you're riding a bike,you don't want to be like, you know —


And so I'm going like this,slowly pedaling,and all of a sudden, I'm on the floor.I'm on the ground, and I look up,and there's this kid peddling awayin the getaway vehicle,which is my bike,and he's about 11 or 12 years old,and I'm on the floor,and I'm crying because I saveda lot of money for that bike,and I'm crying and I stand upand I start screaming.Instinct steps in,and I start screaming, "Mwizi, mwizi!"which means "thief" in Swahili.And out of the woodworks,all of these people come outand they start to give chase.This is Africa, so mob justice in action.Right?And I round the corner,and they've captured him,they've caught him.The suspect has been apprehended,and they make him give me my bike back,and they also make him apologize.Again, you know,typical African justice, right?And so they make him say sorry.And so we stand there facing each other,and he looks at me, and he says sorry,but he looks at mewith this unbridled fury.He is very, very angry.And it is the first time that I have beenconfronted with someonewho doesn't like mesimply because of what I represent.He looks at mewith this look as if to say,"You, with your shiny skinand your bike, you're angry at me?"

So it was a hard lessonthat he didn't like me,but you know what, he was right.I was a middle-class kidliving in a poor country.I had a bike, and he barely had food.Sometimes, it's the messagesthat we don't want to hear,the ones that make uswant to crawl out of ourselves,that we need to hear the most.For every lovable storytellerwho steals your heart,there are hundreds morewhose voices are slurred and ragged,who don't get to stand up on a stagedressed in fine clothes like this.There are a millionangry-boy-on-a-bike storiesand we can't afford to ignore themsimply because we don't liketheir protagonistsor because that's not the kidthat we would bring home with usfrom the orphanage.

The third reason that I thinkthat stories don't necessarilymake the world a better placeis that too often we are so investedin the personal narrativethat we forgetto look at the bigger picture.And so we applaud someonewhen they tell usabout their feelings of shame,but we don't necessarilylink that to oppression.We nod understandinglywhen someone says they felt small,but we don't link that to disCRImination.The most important stories,especially for social justice,are those that do both,that are both personal and allow usto explore and understand the political.

But it's not justabout the stories we likeversus the stories we choose to ignore.Increasingly, we are living in a societywhere there are larger forces at play,where stories are actually for many peoplebeginning to replace the news.Yeah?We live in a time where we are witnessingthe decline of facts,when emotions ruleand analysis, it's kind of boring, right?Where we value what we feelmore than what we actually know.A recent report by the Pew Centeron trends in Americaindicates that only 10 percentof young adults under the age of 30"place a lot of trust in the media."Now, this is significant.It means that storytellersare gaining trustat precisely the same momentthat many in the mediaare losing the confidence in the public.This is not a good thing,because while stories are importantand they help usto have insights in many ways,we need the media.From my yearsas a social justice activist,I know very well that we needcredible facts from media institutionscombined with the powerful voicesof storytellers.That's what pushes the needle forwardin terms of social justice.

In the final analysis, of course,it is justicethat makes the world a better place,not stories. Right?And so if it is justice that we are after,then I think we mustn't focuson the media or on storytellers.We must focus on audiences,on anyone who has ever turned on a radioor listened to a podcast,and that means all of us.

So a few concluding thoughtson what audiences can doto make the world a better place.So firstly, the worldwould be a better place, I think,if audiences were more curiousand more skepticaland asked more questionsabout the social contextthat created those storiesthat they love so much.Secondly, the worldwould be a better placeif audiences recognizedthat storytelling is intellectual work.And I think it wouldbe important for audiencesto demand more buttonson their favorite websites,buttons for example that say,"If you liked this story,click here to support a causeyour storyteller believes in."Or "click here to contributeto your storyteller's next big idea."Often, we are committed to the platforms,but not necessarilyto the storytellers themselves.And then lastly, I think that audiencescan make the world a better placeby switching off their phones,by stepping away from their screensand stepping out into the real worldbeyond what feels safe.

Alice Walker has said,"Look closely at the presentyou are constructing.It should look like the futureyou are dreaming."Storytellers can help us to dream,but it's up to all of usto have a plan for justice.

Thank you.


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