The Danger of the Single Story

Everyone has their own unique narrative. Their upbringing, their beliefs, their life experience, all combine to determine how they look at the world and what their narrative looks like. Intact families can work collaboratively even though each member has a very different narrative, because they are working towards the same goal-the wellbeing of their family. After separation the single narrative of each determines their world view, and where they no longer have the same common goal, this is fertile ground for conflict!


The opportunity and the ability to tell the story effectively sets the scene and provides that person with great power and influence in the dispute resolution space. This scene is determined by:

  • How the story is told
  • Who tells the story
  • When the story is told.

The difficulty is that each person has different priorities and needs in any given situation, so they emphasis what is important or useful to them and generally leave out what is not. Thus the story they tell is incomplete and misleading.


This is very eloquently explained by the African author Chinninunda Adichie in her TEDx Talk:

And presented by Robert Simon at the Family Law Conference in Malta this year. He made the important and profound point that if we do not engage with all the stories of a person or situation, then we rob them of dignity, as we emphasis the differences rather than provide the opportunity to develop an understanding of their similarities.

It is crucial to come to a place of balance, to empower, humanise, and repair broken dignity. This can never be a single story, but must reflect the truth about who we speak of. We must become powerful by not just telling the story of a person, but by telling THE definitive story about them.


The learnings from this are:

  • We must be mindful when presented with a story that it is the personal narrative of the person telling it, and likely to be incomplete and misleading as a representation for the whole family
  • We need to hear all of the stories to really begin to appreciate what is happening for a family
  • We need to facilitate the telling of a compelling story that maintains the dignity for the family and provides a sense of being valued for all involved.


Robert provided some tips for achieving this:

  • invite a narrative response
  • Begin by broadening the investigation and then narrowing
  • Avoid interruptions
  • Seek clarification or guide the discussion after the client has finished
  • Consider the person’s individuality without being hampered by oversimplified stereotypes
  • Move from one dimensional to multidimensional thinking.

This approach is crucial to understanding the complexity of family dynamics at the time of separation, and for providing a foundation for the development of dignity and a better future. Contact Creative Family Law Solutions to explore this way of working.

More resources