A Nigerian writer and speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. Ms. Adichie grew up reading English stories about blonde, blue-eyed children who ate apples, discussed the weather, and played in the snow. In Nigeria, people ate mangos, no one discussed weather that varied little, and there was no snow. Ms. Adichie didn’t know people like her existed in books, so until she discovered African literature, she had only a single story about stories.
Later in life, Ms. Adichie’s college roommate in America was curious about her “tribal music” (a Mariah Carey tape) and wondered how she had learned to speak such good English (the official language of Nigeria). Ms. Adichie, in turn, came to believe Mexicans were the poor immigrants she read about in the U.S. press. Both she and her roommate had been caught in a single story about a people.
I have, perhaps like many of you, been caught this past year in a single story about Donald Trump and his inconceivable rise to the presidency. This story has made me grieve and fear for America…and then slowly realize there must be more to the Trump story than the unmitigated disaster I had constructed.
What I discovered has little to do with my opinion about Donald Trump. I cannot envision softening my opposition to pretty much everything he is and stands for. I sought instead to burrow around and behind the “Donald” story: what did some people who voted for him feel and think? I didn’t have to go very far.
My sister-in-law who lives in the South and is gay, voted for Donald Trump! She felt government had stagnated and he would get things done. Even if, she said, his administration did away with the Marriage Equality Act, of which she and her partner have been beneficiaries, there was promise of an overall better, more effective government. She was willing to forgo personal interest for what she hoped would be a greater good.
Our son voiced his opposition to Hillary Clinton. Trump had “called her out” on her thirty years of public service: she had not been the effective voice for change in the past she now claimed she would be as president. Why had she pandered to Goldman-Sachs with a series of very profitable speeches she refused to make public? Why hadn’t she listened to State Department counsel against her use of a private email server? We should, he thought, clean house and try a new approach: Trump.
One man was almost awe-struck by the “brilliant campaign” Trump conducted, implying the capability of effecting needed changes in Washington. Another said that despite Mr. Trump’s tendency to impulsivity, presidential decorum was no guarantee of wise governance. He cited Clinton era legislation that resulted in incarcerating huge numbers of African American men and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
My husband, an avid historian who for the first time since reaching voting age did not cast a vote for president, holds out hope for an overthrow of a Washington culture dominated by lobbyists working for special interests. (According to Wikipedia, the number of working lobbyists is estimated at close to 100,000; the industry brings in $9 billion annually.)
The stories I heard are not venerations of Donald Trump. They are stories of concern and care for our country. They express ideals that transcend personal interest and ego—unlike some of the public service they find so disheartening. They hope Mr. Trump will serve as a catalyst for change. I expected to tolerate these stories. I did not expect to be touched by the paradox of multiple realities and shared human values.
I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Psychoanalytic clients, after all, arrive in our consulting rooms with loss, confusion, and wounding, sometimes hardly daring to hope against hope that psychotherapy will help. Jung says:
…the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which
as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins
after the investigation of the wholly personal story. It is the patient’s
secret, the rock against which he has been shattered.*
We help our clients tell their secret stories and create new ones. Now we are called to live into a new story about shaping our nation. Let’s take our eyes off Mr. Trump, if we can. Donald Trump is not a single story or even the story.
Let’s attend to stories about a country where people engage in matters that matter. They bring their daughters home from college to join the Women’s March in Washington, send their housekeeper’s daughter to camp, organize an online music event to benefit an environmental defense fund, open a synagogue to the homeless at night, and use vacation time to work for Habitat for Humanity.
There are multitudes of stories, and as Ms. Adiche points out, the stories that get told and who tells them shows where the power lies. I think it lies with us. Each of us has the power to forge a new human story.
*Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1989, p. 117.
Deb Stewart is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in Brooklyn NY