One Voice Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

By Caroline Genster, Fall 2018 Mission Partners Fellow

This fall, I started research for my history thesis at Georgetown University. I have spent the last four months researching the development of family planning policies in the 1960s in Chile and the impact of these policies on gender roles in the country. As I continue my research into next year, the pile of books on my desk will continue grow as the topics covered by these books will continue to expand. What began with one book specifically on family planning in Chile now includes books on topics like the United States’ Cold War foreign policy, Chile’s development programs post-1964 election, and the global fear of overpopulation.

Through my research for my thesis, I have realized the necessity of seeking out multiple perspectives on the same historical topic. For example, while some authors argue that these family planning programs empowered women, others argue that family planning was a manifestation of United States’ imperialism during the Cold War. These authors are talking about the same topic, but with vastly different conclusions.

I have realized that I cannot treat the argument of the first book I read as the infallible source on the topic. This is one of the many reasons I love history—the realization that even the things we treat as sources of irrefutable facts, like history books, are constructions of the author’s argument. History is always available to be re-examined and re-interpreted for a new generation.Thorough research, then, requires synthesizing a variety of voices to produce my own original insight.

This fall, I also joined the Mission Partners team as a fellow. Through my work, I have realized that we cannot just listen to the first voice we hear, but rather must seek out diverse opinions to develop a thorough understanding of the whole issue. Listening to multiple perspectives allows us to develop thoughtful recommendations.

I did not expect to find so many similarities between my academic work at Georgetown University and my work at Mission Partners, but, as a I reflect on them both, the similarities between the two are striking. In both places, I seek out multiple perspectives to develop a comprehensive understanding of a topic. I spend a great of time thinking about how to effectively communicate this understanding to others, through different mediums like a detailed outline of a chapter or through drafting and editing a final product for a client.

It is critical to listen to multiple narratives in every part of life, not just in academic or professional work, because we risk surrounding ourselves in an echo chamber that never challenges us to think critically about what we believe or why. I know I can fall into this habit, but pushing myself to engage with new ideas is critical to developing a more nuanced understanding of the complicated issues of our time.

How are you pushing yourself to seek narratives and voices different from your own? What authors do you do read? What stories do you chose to read? Where do you get your news? Do these stories and sources challenge you? Or just confirm what you already think?

Understanding different narratives does not mean forgetting what you already know, but is rather the awareness to recognize and understand the multiplicity of narratives that surround the same event. Going into 2019, I am challenging myself to listen, read, and watch more diverse narratives and I invite you to do the same.