The following passage is from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story".

"All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

What is the contextual meaning of the bolded sentence above?

2 Answers 2


"Insist" is being used in a stlyized way that is currently fashionable in academic circles and those who deal with academics.

What is meant is

To insist that the only stories worth paying attention to are these negative ones results in overlooking the many other stories that formed me and thereby distorts my experience.

Some people may like the style. I do not because it is a convoluted way to dress up a possibly banal but certainly important thought. I disapprove of obscuring thought to avoid the banal. But that is simply my opinion.

It is wrong to pay attention to only these negative stories because they ignore the positive ones, and it is both sets of experiences that have formed me.

  • While your answer is more or less correct, I dispute your opinionated comments about the choice of wording here. In particular, your suggested alternative sentence is just wrong, because it does not actually say the same thing as the original. The use of "insist" in the original is actually important to the meaning. The argument being made was not "this is, in theory, a bad thing", but was actually "some people are actively (doing / likely to do / proposing doing) bad things, and this is why that's a problem", which is really not the same argument.
    – Foogod
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 19:15

I think Jeff Morrow is right about the sentence being "convoluted". The same idea can be conveyed in a much simpler way. Given that it is from a TED talk, I presume it was rehearsed.

From Cambridge, "insist" means "to say firmly or demand forcefully."

The speaker has many stories, many experiences - some negative and some positive. All of that have shaped him into what he is today. Assume that the speaker is someone who is successful, inspirational, a survivor, a fighter, etc.

The speaker is saying that asking him about [or insisting to hear] only his "negative experiences" - to understand how he became what he is today - forms a misleading narrative. Negative life experiences such as growing up in poverty, losing his parents at a young age, having to live on the streets, academic and business failures, have all significantly contributed to his success. But they are not the only experiences that have made him successful. He was able to get into an Ivy League university, where he was taught by the world's best teachers. They inspired him and empowered him to be able to follow his dreams. The speaker wants people to ask him about these positive stories because they are just as important to him as his struggles.

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.

This might be an extreme example but it helps to understand this.

Failure is the key to success.

That is incomplete. It is the hard work and perseverance (after the failure) that is the key to success.

Everyone thinks that Mike Tyson, one of the greatest boxers of all time, was great because he had nothing, he had no parents, no house, and no relatives. They think Tyson was great because he was "hungry". They think he became a champion because he grew up in poverty. And because he had the darkness and the desire to kill. All that significantly contributed to him becoming a fierce fighter and the youngest heavy-weight champion of the world. But to say only those struggles and "negative experiences" made him what he was, would be wrong. Tyson had one of the greatest coaches ever. He was taught one of the most difficult-to-counter boxing styles of all time. Tyson loved his coach like he was his father. His coach was the reason he had a roof over his head and had food on the table. Without his coach and his coaching team, Tyson wouldn't be a champion. A person in Tyson's place, would want his positive stories to be heard as much as his negative ones.

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