More on little stories in a big world
Hope Eghagha’s welcome piece on the Opinion page of The Guardian of Monday, October 2, 2017 renders a graphic summation of the case of little stories in our world, with familiar highlights in our Nigerian environment. He draws our attention to our predilection for the big stories that fill our airwaves and dominate our news and entertainment channels ad nauseam.
Professor Eghagha tells of the good and bad hues of the big stories, their central characters who are often heavyweights and celebrities in society, as well as the stories’ effects and outcomes on the receiving public. He posits that in truth, the quality of your story is not predicated on your station in life, and he points to the fact that all stories, not just the big ones, should hold a fascination for all the people in the journey of humanity. I agree totally with him. Humanity will be better for it if society embraces a new culture of telling all its assorted human stories, emerging from the multifarious human experience of love and hate, of joy and pain, of courage and cowardice, of fear and daring, of loyalty and betrayal, of success and failure, and of achievement and disaster.
True, modern libraries are full of history books that celebrate the exploits of emperors and conquerors, or the biographies and autobiographies of great men and women. Not many books have been written that capture the little stories of the bit players, which would otherwise have enriched the larger societal picture. These often become subsets of exclusion. Little stories hardly ever get told, and the theatres and spaces where big stories are told (like the leviathan modern mass media), are hardly open to the little stories. Somehow the big stories tend to fascinate and titillate the audience, such that little stories about how little people cope with hard times, how the poor manage adversity, how the downtrodden balance defeats and victories, successes and failures, are as a result in unfair competition for attention. Yet we know that truly worthy human stories are not necessarily the big ones. We know that the love story of the peasant farmer in Ughelli or the kunu seller in Kachia is as worthy of being told as the love story of the late Princess Dianna and Prince Charles of England.
It is therefore gratifying that our attention is being drawn to a dimension of our corporate humanity that cries out for recognition and redress. When our little stories are set out in bold relief with all their drama and poignancy, they captivate the mind and invariably move us to an examination of conscience. It is with these sentiments that I once again heartily congratulate the learned Professor of Letters for such an ingenious reflection.
There are stories of little people from humble and obscure backgrounds whose heroic acts of compassion, of suffering and stoicism, of fellow feeling and self-giving, loom large on the scale of human values and virtues. These little stories can hardly ever be found in the public domain for different reasons, but they are stories worth telling in their own right. Witness the devastation of the widow, mother of an only child, who, struggling vainly to eke out a living to nurture the child, sees that child end up ‘on the wrong side of the street.’ Or the parent with an adolescent child, whose life hovers on the fringes of sobriety and insanity in an epic struggle to achieve permanent stability.
There is the itinerant beggar, a permanent fixture in the motor park with an unchanging tale of woe to tell to all departing travelers and pleading for handouts. And at traffic lights in our cities we often encounter the sick, young or old, with some malignant physical condition, there with a retinue of innovative helpers in tow, brandishing pictures of their principal’s condition with accompanying musical rendition to coax financial assistance from motorists. Perhaps the strategy is to shock motorists with the gory display of their plight and thereby curry sympathy and support.
These and more are human stories in stark display and on the go, the kind that society would rather not publicise. Little as they may be in the broad spectrum of events, they are nonetheless significant stories in our national consciousness to which society should address itself with remedial strategies.
Hearing, reading and viewing these stories can help us cure ourselves of our narcissistic tendencies on the individual level as well as our collective amnesia as a people. In deliberately harnessing and expounding particularly its little stories as well as the big ones, society can seek to achieve several purposes. It conscientises the citizenry; it purges itself of pride and prejudice; it justifiably and appropriately rewards acts of honesty and heroism; it incentivizes societal integrity; and it elevates itself in its collective humanity.
What we need are platforms to constantly and continuously ventilate our signal experiences (good or bad), as well as promote and celebrate our common humanity. The little stories need to be told – stories of the denial of justice, of exemplary courage and the survival of the underdog, stories of ungodly exploitation and enslavement, of suffering and poverty and their impact on the conscience and psyche of society.
We need to set up platforms to tell stories of real lives in a world of illusion, stories of real men and women in a phantom world. We need such platforms in our society to tell stories of undeserving victims and unsung heroes in small places; yes, stories that touch the heart and strike the cord of empathy. With the telling of such little stories, we may gradually experience a much needed transformation from a society of gloating onlookers to pursuers of truth and justice who, each and everyone, are their neighbours’ keepers.
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