The Fallacy Of The Narrative

The title sounds like a fantastic phrase. A line to impress. A heading to behold. Beyond all that, that phrase has become something very revolutionary in my life. It has enabled me to ask more meaningful questions in order to gain fresh perspectives on issues I know little about or even thought I knew about. Let me back up a little bit.

I first heard the words “Fallacy” and Hasty Generalization” in a Philosophy and Logic class in University. It was nice experimenting with words and learning new things. You know that feeling when as a teenager you learn something new. Great !!!

Fast forward to more than a decade later, I took the course “Critical Perspective on Management” on Coursera. It was taught by Rolf Strom-Olsen
( of IE Business School. It was part historical, part business know-how. But it turned out to be a fantastic course with many learning points. In one of the topics “The Power Of The Narrative”, he outlines some of the fallacies that these narratives behold that is oblivious to many. In general the course examines most of the common assumptions made in today’s management literature.

Back to our discussion, there is always a narrative about things, issues and conversations. Some true. Some false. Some made up. Some shaped by our experiences. The origin of narratives goes as far back as mankind. In fact Paul in advising Titus told him to beware of narratives. He penned down one that was spreading “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons (Titus 1: 12)”. He told Titus to rebuke sharply anyone who comes up with that narrative because it leads to division.

But is that narrative true? Is it a good representation? How can I verify it ? I don’t know. But I think every individual has his / her own story. There is always a reason — even when it does not make sense to you. If you can spare a little that to know more, most def you will have another perspective. Chimamanda Adichie, in her famous TED talk, discussed the implications of “The Danger Of A Single Story”. It is a worthwhile topic to listen to. She talked about having a world view shaped by one story and how dangerous that is because we lead ourselves into the path of critical misunderstanding.

I have heard that Londoners are polite, cold and impersonal. Maybe. Maybe not. But what I can say is that one of the best helps I have gotten in life was in London. It was from a total stranger who stopped by to ask. Oh, he was as white as I was black. Yes, same cold and impersonal London.

Let me give you some narratives. You will get my drift afterwards.

Narrative 1

Question: Give the names of an entrepreneur you know.

This is an easy question. In the famous words of a legendary philosopher aka my son “Easy, Peasy , Lemon Squeezy”. The names ring out. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Aliko Dangote, Martha Stewart, Mark Zuckerberg, Folorunsho Alakija, Carlos Slim.

Good answers I must say but there is an issue. Read the question again. It says entrepreneurs that you know. You don’t know these fellas you just mentioned. You see them once in a while on TV.

Ok that was not meant to be a trick question but just to emphasize something that you left out.

The narrative of an entrepreneur, that we seem to know, is about the successful and global ones featured daily on news media. How about the ones that failed? How about the lady selling roasted corn by the road side? She has been on it in and out of season. Her proceeds have sent 4 to the University. How about the guy in Times Square hustling for you to buy a memorabilia from him? How about the folks peddling vuvuzelas and makarapas in the stadium? And the guy manning the corner shop in Peckham? What do you think of them? What you think does not matter. They are all entrepreneurs.

Narrative: An entrepreneur is a successful global business man / woman.

Truth: An entrepreneur is someone whose hustle picks his/her bills.

Narrative 2

I was in training in a foreign country and all of a sudden I started having serious bouts of headaches. During the night I could not sleep because of it and hence I had to sort myself out in the morning before returning to the training. In class, I told the learning instructor about my inability to make it on time. Before I could go ahead to tell him the reason, he told me not to bother. He told me that Nigerians have an active night life and he understands why I could not come on time.

I did not bother to go on since he had already reached his conclusion. I let it slide. What he did not know was that I do not have a night life. Hahahahaha. I have never been to a night club nor even know what he meant. Anyway, in private I told him what happened. He was too shocked to say a word. He wanted the earth to swallow him for his hasty generalization. I took a walk. I am sure he regretted what he said but …again whatsoever narrative he had about Nigerians showed up.

The Narrative: Nigerians love party and have an active night life. They would even do that despite having a serious appointment the next morning.

The Truth: I had headache and had to seek medical treatment hence I could not make it to the training on time the next day.

Narrative 3

There was this lady that I did see almost daily and in my usual habit, I would greet her. You know those pass-by greetings where you don’t stop to focus on the person. Yeah, those were the ones I was doling out to her “on a daily”. She never responded. I just thought it was either she thought of herself highly and hence did not bother with the plebeians or she was just socially / culturally awkward.

Anyway this continued for a while. I told myself I will wear her out with my niceness and greetings but nothing changed. I then mouthed my frustrations to a colleague. He told me she was hard of hearing. Waoh! All I felt so so bad about the whole situation.

My thoughts were internal but had I known this one piece of information my perspective on the matter would have been different.

The Narrative: If someone does not respond to your felicitations, that person is haughty.

The Truth: In this case, the person was hard of hearing.

Every country has its people….good and bad. The natural person tries to be good. Yes, influences and pressures come in here and there. Race, nationality, tribe etc does not make you a great person neither does it make you better person. We all have to learn to be better fellas.

Until you ask and enquire ……..You don’t know, what you don’t know.

If we care enough to know, then we will have an idea why the next man behaves the way they do. One more question and interest in the person or situation might break the fallacy of the narrative. If we are interested in the dilemmas of others, you will find understanding. World peace and mutual co-existence will continue to elude us if we do not care about what the other person cares about.

So let’s challenge our narratives; one question at a time.



Family Conscious. Eclectic Mind. Faith Inspired. Personal Finance. Biz Consulting. Entrepreneurship