On the importance of knowing how people live as well as how they die

It is easy to assume that our collective humanity is self-evident, that we do not need to search for it. But we live in a time of numbers and facts, in a world where an acceptable response to the news of death is to click the ‘LIKE’ button on Facebook. We live in a world where we can easily find information about GDP and infant mortality and life expectancy but not about that which most motivates people: human desire. We live in a world where we so often quote figures of the number of the dead in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Congo until they become just that: figures. Each time I read these news articles, I find myself thinking – what do they dream about in Congo? How do they fall in love in Afghanistan? How do they resolve family quarrels in Iraq? What do they like to eat? Of course we must know about the dead and the dying, and of course these figures and facts are essential, but they must, they should, co-exist with human stories. We should know how people die but we should also know how they live.

–Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, 2011 Commonwealth Lecture, “To Instruct & Delight: A Case for Realist Literature

This. Because it is beautiful and true and latches on to one of the biggest ethical worries I have about my work:

what if the unintended consequence of advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns is that it ultimately dissolves the very international solidarity and humanity we aspire to achieve?

A question that keeps me up at night. That and rereading Adichie’s stuff. Her writing continues to be my crack.


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