Stories in all shapes and sizes

Recently, I’ve been making a really concerted effort to consume media created by people who are different from me. It’s not about diversity points, though this has made the media I’ve consumed more diverse. The point is to learn and to build compassion.

I don’t throw a whole lot about the details of my personal beliefs up on this blog for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that a one-sided “conversation” over the internet is just about the worst place to have constructive, life-giving interactions about subjects so closely tied to identity and other hot-button issues.

I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. Sure, I share advice and recommendations on this blog, but you’re free to take them or leave them. I’m sure years down the road I will have changed my mind about some of them. The point of this blog is to be a resource for emerging adults, because as an emerging adult, I felt frustrated by the lack of information and guidance in my sphere of existence.

But that’s just it. Over the course of my life (and the last couple of years in particular), my sphere of existence has grown immensely. I don’t mean how many friends I have — that number, in all reality, has gone down as relationship-building is no longer aided by the convenience of being in school together. I mean how I understand the world. How I see it, think about it, interact with it. And of course, how I see, think about, and interact with the people in it.

I’ve written before about how grateful I am that I grew up loving books, and how important reading is to building empathy and expanding one’s worldview. And it goes beyond books. TV shows, movies, podcasts, music, art or creative works of any kind are coming from a person (or group of people) with a history and a perspective.

And in theory, everyone’s perspective is different from my own. But there’s a lot of room for nuance in there. Someone who grew up in the same town as me and went to the same high school still has a different perspective on the world, but not in the same way as someone who grew up in a drastically different environment on the other side of the country or another continent. Innumerable factors play into this, but if I only listen to the voices that sound like me, think like me, look like me, and are treated like me, I would be drastically stunting the opportunity to learn about what’s beyond my own experience.

Particularly as someone who has had a great deal more opportunities and good fortune in life than, frankly, the majority of the world’s population, it is my privilege to push the boundaries of my understanding and create room in my life for voices that I haven’t heard from as often.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t consume or enjoy media and creative works from people who are very similar to me. If it’s enjoyable and benefits me without harming others, great. It’s simply about learning to find the balance between enjoying what I’m interested in, and noticing when what I’ve been taking in reflects too narrow a portion of the stories that are unfolding on this planet.

This goal, of course, is meant to be tempered by sensibility. I am not responsible to seek out voices that spend more time on vitriol than on empathy, or voices that cause or perpetuate harm — especially toward those who are especially vulnerable to such harm. I’m nobody’s keeper, but it is far more worthwhile for me to use what power I have to learn and grow — and when appropriate, to invite others to do the same.

A few of the ways I’ve been looking for media from different perspectives:

  • Asking for recommendations from others who have the same goal, or who are different from me. I’m in a book club right now that’s been great for that, but I also keep an eye out for social media posts, listen to podcasts, and get a few emails weekly that recommend new content to me.
  • Notice when media I’m consuming (visual art, music, TV, etc.) feels a little too much like what I’m used to. I was making a playlist a while back and realized that there wasn’t a lot of demographic diversity in the artists I was choosing — and that the musical diversity was suffering as a cause. I searched out some folks of different backgrounds that had a similar vibe to the original tracks, and found some new music I really enjoy in the process, while also supporting artists that likely get less airtime.
  • Enjoy it. As important as I think multiple perspectives are, there are also particular stories or creators that I go back to simply because their work connects with me, and that’s okay. My goal is never to exclude what I want to enjoy, simply to expand the horizons of what I perceive as available to enjoy.

Finally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED Talk a few years back called “The Danger of a Single Story” that has really stuck with me, and encapsulates the importance of my point here far more poignantly than I’ve managed to. If you have 20 minutes, I would highly, highly recommend checking it out.

What are your favorite ways to find media recommendations outside your norm? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. I am still locked out of my Instagram account, and am afraid I may need to start over on that front. Please continue to bear with me for the time being (and also hit me up if you have any solutions, as support hasn’t been able to help)!

(Photo is a free stock photo because the title is both a metaphor and quite literal.)

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