Storytelling at Work
July 31, 2019
The Power of Storytelling to Change Our Future

Thanks to Evelyne Pouget for the heads up

Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2019
A Tidal Wave of Storytelling in Germany Has Begun!

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Ta da! Proof that Storytelling for the Revolution has an international audience! Here is the very wise, talented, multi-lingual, creative, brilliant, contemplative, self-aware, humble Rainer Poulet reading it in Koblenz, Germany! Might this be the beginning of a tidal wave of interest in Germany and all of Europe?

And Rainer isn't the only one who likes my book. Here's what other people are saying about it -- some of whom you might know.

Available on Amazon and in my garage. Soon to be available as an audio book.


My other book on storytelling
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2019
The Power of Story in Politics

About George Monbiot
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

Bedbound 11 Years, He Invents His Own Surgery

If you have a big challenge, problem, or seemingly insurmountable task, here is a homeopathic dose of exactly what you need. Nothing is impossible. Where there is a will, there is a way. Wow!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2019
Why Do People Want to Listen?

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Everyone I know wants to be listened to when they speak. And everyone SAYS that listening is an important thing to do and there is way too little of it going on these days. As a facilitator of Wisdom Circles, I am very interested in this topic -- especially since there is no storytelling without story listening.

And so... I polled a whole bunch of people and asked them what motivates them to listen to another person. 79 people responded. On a scale of 1-5 (with "5" being the highest rating), here are their reasons for listening:

WHAT MOTIVATES ME TO LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE

4.51 -- Reduce misunderstanding
4.44 -- Improve my personal relationships
4.41 -- See through other's eyes
4.40 -- Get to the heart of the matter
4.39 -- Tune into what people are really saying
4.31 -- Deepen my connection to others
4.31 -- Feel more empathy for others
4.25 -- Understand people better
4.22 -- Help people feel better about themselves
4.19 -- Experience more empathy with others
4.17 -- Solve problems faster
4.16 -- Learn about new things
4.14 -- Improve my ability to collaborate
4.09 -- Gain peoples' trust

4.05 -- AVERAGE FOR ALL QUESTIONS

4.00 -- Get different perspectives
3.89 -- Connect to the world around me
3.85 -- Spark new ideas and possibilities
3.82 -- Become a better person
3.80 -- Improve the quality of my life
3.79 -- Inspire people to tell their stories
3.64 -- Increase the likelihood of people listening to me
3.60 -- Improve my business relationships
2.97 -- Improve my social life

How about you? Why do you listen? And what, if anything, can you do to become a better listener?

Want to take the poll?

Idea Champions is in the process of creating a new workshop on listening. The content and design of the workshop will be very much informed by the above results and our own fascination for the topic. If you want to be informed when our workshop is ready, email info@ideachampions.com with the words LISTENING WORKSHOP in the subject heading.

Our approach to workshops and trainings

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2019
30 Cool Quotes on Aging

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"Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old." - Franz Kafka

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age." - Sophia Loren

"My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?" - Diane Von Furstenberg

"If you are pining for youth I think it produces a stereotypical old man because you only live in memory, you live in a place that doesn't exist. Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been." - David Bowie

"As soon as you feel too old to do a thing, do it." - Margaret Deland

"You can live to be a hundred if you give up all things that make you want to live to be a hundred." - Woody Allen

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"There are six myths about old age: 1. That it's a disease, a disaster. 2. That we are mindless. 3. That we are sexless. 4. That we are useless. 5. That we are powerless. 6. That we are all alike." - Maggie Kuhn

"When it comes to aging, we're held to a different standard than men. Some guy said to me: 'Don't you think you're too old to sing rock n' roll?' I said: 'You'd better check with Mick Jagger'". - Cher

"Aging is not 'lost youth', but a new stage of opportunity and strength." - Betty Friedan

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. - Samuel Ullman

"When you get to my age, you'll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster. That's the ultimate test of how you have lived your life." - Warren Buffett

"We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we're not glowing, and we're not hot, that we don't matter. I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don't matter. I know that only by owning who and what you are can you start to step into the fullness of life. Every year should be teaching us all something valuable. Whether you get the lesson is really up to you.' - Oprah Winfrey

"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw

"Don't try to be young. Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won't live long enough to find out about, but I'm still curious about them. You know people who are already saying, 'I'm going to be 30 -- oh, what am I going to do?' Well, use that decade! Use them all!" - Betty White

"The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes." - Frank Lloyd Wright

"What helps with aging is serious cognition -- thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you're here?" - Goldie Hawn

"With aging, you earn the right to be loyal to yourself." - Francis McDormand

"The thing about aging is all your old lovers, pretty much if they were really friends, become your family. It's great. You have those terrible feelings of possessiveness and uncertainty go out the window. You have what you shared. You know you would help each other in times of trouble no matter what." - Gloria Steinhem

"I don't feel old or used up, and I don't have time to waste thinking about aging, because I live only for my cause." - Brigitte Bardot

"Most people don't grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging." - Maya Angelou

"The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected." - Robert Frost

"And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows!" - Audrey Hepburn

"Wisdom comes with winters." - Oscar Wilde

"The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude." - Gabriel Garcia Marque

"Today I am 65 years old. I still look good. I appreciate and enjoy my age. A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it. You still bring to bear all your prior experience, but you are riding on another level. It's completely liberating." - Nikki Giovanni

"I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don't have to." - Albert Einstein

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream." - C.S. Lewis

"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm." - H.D. Thoreau

"Today is the oldest you've ever been and the youngest you'll even be again." - Eleanor Roosevelt

"Those who love deeply never grow old. They may die of old age, but they die young." - Ben Franklin

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Last photo: unsplash-logoCristian Newman

Glorious Broads

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

What People Say About Their Experience of Wisdom Circles

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Wisdom Circles are enjoyable, lightly-facilitated, two-hour gatherings of 6-12 people sharing meaningful, personal stories with each other -- stories that convey insights, humanity, lessons learned, and memorable moments of truth. What follows are a sampling of testimonials from some of the people who have recently attended Wisdom Circles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Woodstock, NY.

"I didn't know what to expect when I attended my first Wisdom Circle; I had brought pen and paper, prepared for note taking and homework. Half way through the evening I found myself spell bound by the spinning of tales and stories, notebook forgotten. What if, in every day life, we paid attention to the stories of our peers with the same focus and respect? What would happen if we gave a child, a friend or and spouse 10 minutes of undivided, uninterrupted attention? At the closing of the Wisdom circle that night, I felt that I had been given the opportunity to glance at the human soul." -- Carole Clement

"Wisdom Circles make space for the human spirit by creating space for shared human experience. How unusual it is in these modern times to gather in a circle of friends and strangers and have the opportunity to share personal stories of growth and transformation in an intimate, safe and supportive space. The format is simple, but the impact profound. I always leave full of new perspective, insight, and feeling -- a deeper connection to my fellow storytellers and story listeners, but most importantly, a refreshed relationship to my own life path and deeper connection to my values, voice and truth." -- Akka B.

"I attended a Wisdom Circle for the first time last night, and left feeling uplifted, connected, and heard. Sitting together in community, listening to others' stories and unique perspectives on life, and bearing witness to one another's experiences is not only powerful, but healing. These circles are a microcosm of how I hope society at large might one day function -- truly seeing those around us, valuing them, and recognizing we are on a journey together in our shared humanity." - Karen Kinney

"There is no doubt in my mind that Wisdom Circles are a service of enormous value to the community. There is indeed great wisdom in exploring our own stories; in speaking them, sharing them and allowing them to be witnessed. The feedback, insights and questions from Mitch and the other participants open a door for us to reconsider from different perspectives that which we too often have only seen from one angle for too long, perhaps causing an inflexibility in our attachment to our story. It is quite possible to hold something too dear and too tightly; to offer that up to a group is to open to a larger picture and to yield to the process of letting go. I highly recommend the Wisdom Circle to anybody who feels that they have a story to tell, especially if they feel that they don't." -- Carlos F. Chancellor

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"My Wisdom Circle evening was a heartwarming event. The remarkable stories we heard created an instant community of trust and empathy. I felt embraced by everyone. I went with one story to share in mind, but the stories others told tapped into a very different place in me, and a story that surprised me emerged from me. The experience gave me a new insight that stunned me, or really, it was an old insight that I had forgotten about and was deeply happy to have back. The Circle was a beautiful, totally engaging evening." -- Susan Page

"As a psychotherapist, I am, in a way, a professional listener. I encourage people to tell their stories, but no one is necessarily encouraging me to share mine. The Wisdom Circle was a unique experience. We came together as a community of supportive listeners, each person encouraged to share a story from their deepest heart. With no topic taboo, and no judgments, I did not need to fear the effect of my story on the listeners. There was an atmosphere of openness and safety in the room. How freeing this was for me. I could allow myself to find the tale that wanted telling and feel safe to tell it. Afterwards I felt a sense of relief and freedom. I felt seen and heard without judgment. This was not group therapy. This was community, each person listening deeply, listening with the third ear, which is the heart." -- Ellen Goldberg

"I went to my first Wisdom Circle with some interest, but as the first session unfolded, my interest piqued. I am hooked with the experiences that I am receiving in The Wisdom Circle. I find that days after I leave The Wisdom Circle I am still reflecting on the stories told. I had no idea that someone else's experience told in a story could affect me so deeply and would have an impact on my future thoughts. Mitch is interested and caring in his duties as the mediator. I love going and look forward to the experience with great anticipation." - Robyn Johnson

"One of the biggest takeaways I had from the Wisdom Circle was the importance of listening. I couldn't help but notice how my mind was constantly wanting to interject during other people's stories. Whether it was a joke, a comment of acknowledgment, or even just wanting to say 'yeah sure'. But through the process of listening to each person's story, really paying attention, and clearly hearing what it was that they had to say, I found that it was not only an enriching experience, but also something I've begun to implement in my day-to-day life." - Jon Jeffers

"I went to my first Wisdom Circle last week. It was wonderful. The space was loving and safe, with wonderful people, none of whom I had met before, but two hours later felt like I had six new friends. It's an inspiring environment that naturally evokes the sharing of stories. I'm going again." - Sharon Jeffers

"The Wisdom Circle evening I attended was not only stimulating, but conjured up stories of my own I hadn't even remembered, until my memory was stirred by the others in the circle. The facilitator made us feel safe and appreciated in sharing our stories and created an evening of ambiance, gratitude and mutual appreciation -- a place to be real.' -- Sher Davidson

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"The whole experience renewed my interest in listening to, writing, and telling stories." -- Jean Paul Peretz

"Sharing our stories with one another is a beautiful way that humans support and teach and enrich one another. It is also a way to build community. Most of all, in hearing one another's stories we are aware of our shared, flawed, exquisite humanity." -- Diana Kuper

"I found it immensely moving to listen to people's core narratives at the Wisdom Circles I have attended. It deepens my appreciation of who they are and what their inner life looks like." -- Ruth Garbus

"Wisdom Circles are SO MUCH FUN. Under the facilitator's alchemical guidance, each and every storytelling gathering is a safe, encouraging, inspiring, profound, and creative opportunity to more deeply connect with myself and others." -- Lynda Carre

"I was invited to to attend a Wisdom Circle with my daughter and we spent a wonderful evening of storytelling and enlightenment. Sharing insights and bringing people together made it a memorable evening." -- Jean Buchalter

"The Wisdom Storytelling Circle is a simple, alive form that brought forth my deep narratives. Working within a theme, focused and strengthened my voice. Knowing that the facilitator was guiding the time, I relaxed, took in other's offerings, stayed engaged, and found my moment to speak. This is an ancient activity, arising again, in amazement." -- Barbara Bash

"Participating in a Wisdom Circle is uplifting, empowering, bringing forth empathy, trust and intimacy, sharing, learning, real listening, digging into and sharing one's own life and memories, community-building. It is so enriching to mind and soul -- truly rewarding. Am looking forward to the next one!" -- Eldad Benary

"This aspect of gathering the troops and sounding the clarion call is a way to say Let's Do This... Let's Connect... Let's Inspire and reward each other with heartfelt experiences. In our very busy lives, filled with all of the calamitous news, Wisdom Circles are a serene way to escape, for a few hours, back to oneself." -- Jan Buchalter

"Participating in a Wisdom Circle was a very freeing experience, as I am generally shy when presenting to a group. I developed a confidence in my ability to tell my story in a transparent and honest way without feeling that I had to make it better by exaggerating or leaving things out. It was also fascinating to hear the stories of others. The circle created a bond between participants that opened the door to understanding others by seeing things through their eyes." -- Dr. Alan Pizer

"I had a wonderful time at the Wisdom story telling session. I loved thinking about relevant story themes from my life, preparing for our evening, meeting with other storytellers, hearing their stories, and telling my story. I heard amazing and inspiring stories from each person and felt spiritually and emotionally enriched afterward. I felt connected to each person who shared. The facilitation was beautifully done, summing up the core of our stories, reinforcing the beautiful learning in each of our lives. The evening was truly memorable and meaningful." -- Corinne Mol

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To continue the conversation: mitch@ideachampions.com

MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

How I Spent 32 Years in Prison

Think you have it tough? Complaining about cash flow, writer's block, or the price of cappuccino? Listen to this gent. One pencil! Blue soap on a wall. Teaching through a heating vent in a prison for the criminally insane. Wow.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2019
The Power of Listening in Helping People Change

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Good article on listening from the Harvard Review

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

What a Story Is Not

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For the past three years, I've been facilitating Wisdom Circles in Woodstock, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They have been an absolute delight -- wonderful gatherings of open-minded people who intuitively understand the power and glory of storytelling. And yet, during that time, I've noticed a curious phenomenon: Even though the word "story" is well-known to everyone, not everyone understands how to tell a story with impact.

I am not going to give you instructions for how to do that. Why not? Because you already know. You do. It's just that, sometimes, funky old habits get in the way. When you let go of those habits, the story you want to tell will shine. (Kind of like what Michelangelo said when asked how he made the David: "I simply took away everything that wasn't.")

So...here goes: six things storytelling is not:

1. A Chance to Tell the Story of Your Life: Just because you have a captive audience doesn't mean you have to rewind the tape of your life and tell them everything. No one really wants to hear it. While you may feel better at the end of your monologue, no one else will.

2. You Talking About Things: Simply stringing together a bunch of things that "happened" to you is not a story. It may be a report, a list of accomplishments, or you "waxing poetic" about something you care about, but it is not a story. Stories have a dramatic arc -- a beginning, a middle, and an end. TheY flow, like a river, to the ocean. They are not random puddles.

3. A Sanitized Summary of an Experience You'd Had: Most amateur storytellers tend to underplay or completely omit one of the most important elements of a story -- the obstacle. Little Red Riding Hood had to deal with the Big Bad Wolf. Perseus had to deal with the Minotaur. Luke Skywalker had to deal with Darth Veda. No obstacle, no story. Of course, this obstacle might be an "inner" obstacle like fear, doubt, or procrastination. That's fine. Just don't forget to give your obstacle its proper due.

4. Multiple Stories Threaded Into One: Dizzy Gillespie said it best: "It took my entire life to learn what not to play." Translation? Be economical in the telling of your stories. Be selective! Know what to leave out. Just because something in your story reminds you of something else, that doesn't mean you should include it. If you do, you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and your audience losing interest.

5. Talking to Yourself in Monotones: Some aspiring storytellers, not sure if their story is a "good" one or that anyone will listen, have a tendency to speak in a very soft voice or forget to make eye contact. Oops! Not a good idea. If no one can hear your story, what good is it? And remember, it's not just about the words, it's about the feeling behind the words.

6. Retelling an Experience (Instead of Reliving It): It is not uncommon for aspiring storytellers, in their commitment to "tell what happened", to leave out the emotion of the story. Facts are one thing, feeling is quite another. Without feeling, your story becomes lifeless -- merely an 11:00 news report. Embodying your story is the real work. Inhabiting it -- not just hydroplaning on the surface of events, but diving in to the deep end of the experience you are attempting to convey. (Big shout out to Gail Larsen for this important distinction.)

The next post: 12 tips for telling a good story

How to Tell a Good Story
Why We Tell Stories
Ten Reasons Why People Don't Tell Their Stories

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2019
Getrude Matshe on Ubuntu

2013 TEDx talk by Getrude Matshe, the inspired Founder of HerStory Women's Empowerment Conferences.

"Ubuntu" is a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity". It is often translated as "I am because we are," or "humanity towards others", but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".

HerStory on Facebook

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

Helping Children Truly Understand the Moral of a Story

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As a so-called "thought leader"in the field of storytelling and an author of two books on the topic, Storytelling at Work and Storytelling for the Revolution, I tend to think that I am quite knowledgeable about the matter. And while this may true in some ways, a few months ago I had a chance to experience how little I really understand.

My epiphany was not sparked by newly released research or attending a storytelling conference or reading someone else's book on the subject. No. My epiphany was sparked by a most unusual suspect or should I say suspects -- 26 second grade students attending Al Siraat College, an Australian K-12 school, in the Islamic tradition, just outside of Melbourne.

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As part of my series of one-month residencies at Al Siraat, I had been invited by one of the school's most progressive teachers, the delightful Ms. Najma, to teach her second grade class how to write and tell stories.

Ms. Najma's invitation had come as quite a surprise to me, especially since I had never taught a second grade class before, my usual students being upwardly mobile movers and shakers from a wide variety of corporations. Not a single student in Ms. Najma's class has a corner office, reserved parking space, or high blood pressure. What they did have, however, was a noticeable twinkle in their eye and a whole lot of curiosity about what it took to become a writer and teller of memorable tales.

Up for the challenge, I spent the night before immersed in the process of figuring out what a three-week storytelling curriculum for 8-year olds might look like. I googled. I noodled. I made some lists. But in the end, it was clear to me that this was going to be an organic process and that all I really needed to come up with, in the moment, was a game plan for Class #1. The rest of the eight classes I had been asked to teach would take care of themselves.

Class #1 was a gas. Apparently, my quirky sense of humor, non-traditional approach to teaching, and willingness to begin the class with a juggling demonstration was more than enough to win the kids over. In just a few minutes I had them in the palm of my hand, or, if not the palm, then at least somewhere near my elbow -- close enough to maintain their attention for the duration or the class. They loved it. I loved it. And the aforementioned Ms. Najma loved it.

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Not wanting to overload them, I kept things as simple as possible, asking them to tell me why stories mattered, why stories were so popular, and what their favorite fairy tales were. Then I gave them a brief tutorial about the five elements of a story (i.e. protagonist, setting, plot, obstacle, and resolution) and a lively conversation followed. Boom! Victory! They got it!

A bow, a wave of the hand, and a promise to see them on Wednesday and I was out the door, quite a buzz behind me -- a roomful of 8-year olds psyched to be diving into the cool pond of storytelling.

Class #2 was not only gas. It was also a hoot. I read one of my own stories and after it was told, we deconstructed it together -- teaching, you might say, from the "inside out". Indeed, now that Ms Najma's second graders had listened to and observed a story being told, it was easy for them to respond to my questions -- and so they did, many hands going up and being waved in my face.

"Mr. Mitch, Mr Mitch... call on me. Call on me!"

Inspired as they were, I gave each of them a post-it pad and one instruction -- to think of a story they wanted to write and, as soon as they thought of it, to write the title of their story on a sticky note. Which they were all happy to do (even if this particular sentence is technically a sentence fragment and a teacher, somewhere, at this precise moment in time, is probably gearing up to correct me.)

Somehow, for an 8-year old, having a title for their story is extremely beneficial. Like having a handle for a cup, it provides leverage and a sense of power -- something all of us can use just a little more of these days.

Titles written, I asked each student to read their title to the rest of us -- which they did in a heartbeat. Wow! 26 stories were starting to take shape, 26 products of their imagination that would soon be written and read!

Class #3 was the day of my unexpected epiphany -- a lesson I will never forget. Not in this life and not in the next, if there is a next. Technically speaking, I was the teacher. But in reality, I was the student and the students were the teachers -- even if they had no idea that what I was just about to experience would be a life changing moment for me, as a teacher, writer, father, and storyteller.

For most second graders and, indeed, for most of the rest of humanity, stories are a kind of entertainment, a pleasant way to pass the time or be distracted from the "real world" -- especially since most of the stories we read or listen to are fiction. The real purpose of storytelling, however is not to distract, but to communicate a meaningful, memorable, message -- a timeless piece of wisdom that will evoke, in the reader or listener, increased awareness -- what most of us have come to know as "the moral of the story."

The seed. The teaching. The takeaway.

This is the topic I wanted to introduce to Ms. Najma's class of second graders -- how to increase the odds of the stories they wrote having some kind of meaningful message at it's core -- that what they were about to write had the potential to impact their readers in a positive way, and that even, as an 8-year old, they had the power to communicate something of great value to others.

At first, upon bringing up the topic, the students just looked at me blankly, like I was introducing them to geometry. Taking my cue from their obvious confusion, I floated out the titles of a few fairy tales and asked what they thought the morals or messages embedded in those tales might be. Bingo! They got it. The concept clicked. Game on! So I gave each of them another post-it pad (invented, by accident, by the way, in 1968) and asked them to write down the key message of their story.

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Two minutes. That's all the time it took them. Only 90 seconds longer than it takes for a kid to eat a cookie.

"Fantastic! That's great! Good job! Now, please stand up, come to the front of the room, and post the morals of your stories on the board."

Twenty-six students stood. 26 students found their way to the front of the room. 26 students posted, thrilled that their story's message was now, somehow, official. Then, at my instruction, they sat down on the floor, so I could, one by one, read each of the their morals aloud for everyone to hear.

It felt a bit like Christmas morning, 26 presents just about to be opened.

In no particular order, I removed the first sticky note from the white board and read it aloud.

"Don't be rude," I announced to the class. "OK," I added. "That's the first moral of someone's story: 'Don't be rude'. Now let's see what the second one is all about."

I pulled the second one off the wall.

"Don't be mean." And then I pulled a third, "Don't go outside." And a fourth, "Never talk to strangers." And a fifth, "Don't interrupt".

A definable, disturbing pattern was emerging. Every single moral was a negative one. Every message began with either "Don't" or "Never". One by one, I pulled each and every sticky note off the wall and read them to the class. And one by one, I began to understand what the 26 second graders in Ms. Najma's class really thought stories were -- cautionary tales. What not to do. What shouldn't be done. Behaviors that were either not permissable, dangerous, or bad.

Oops!

I could feel a great sadness welling up inside me. But at the same time, I could also feel a great opportunity, as I, again, read the first moral of the story aloud: "Don't be rude."

"Can anyone tell me another way the writer of this story could say the same thing -- maybe in a way that offered the reader a positive message?"

"Be kind?" one of the students offered.

"Yes. 'Be kind' is another way the moral of that story can be expressed. And do you know why delivering the message in this way is something you might want to try?"

"Because it feels better?" replied one of the kids. "Because it's not so scary?" said another.

"Exactly! You got it!" I responded. "And also because framing the moral or message of your story in a positive way gives the reader or listener something they can do -- a positive behavior they can try."

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Class over, I made a bee line to the office of Mufti Aasim, the spiritual Director of Al Siraat and the Head of Islamic studies. I wanted him to know what I had just experienced and I wanted his sage input.

His response was immediate.

He put his head in his hands, closed his eyes, and shook his head from side to side, lamenting about the phenomenon I had just described and the way in which society, schools, and parents have misused stories for far too long. Then, he asked if he could read me a few passages from the Quran which represented the essence of that holy book and how the true teachings of Islam focus on the bright side of what's possible -- what we can do, not what we can't.

If Mufti Aasim and I were going to write our own moral to the story on a sticky note at that moment in time and place it on the nearest whiteboard it would have said something like "Speak your truth with love" or "Learn from your experiences," or "Life is full of choices."

And one of those choices, which I offered Mufti Aasim on the spot, was to substitute for the substitute teacher (me) on Friday and teach Ms Najma's class himself -- an opportunity to speak about the power and meaning of storytelling in the Islamic tradition.

This he did with great love, patience, clarity, and wisdom -- reading three stories from the Quran and asking the students to identify the real message embedded in each of the stories he told. And when, they framed those messages in negative ways, as they had been accustomed to doing, Mufti Aasim gently worked with them to help them frame the messages of those stories in positive ways -- what they could do instead of what they couldn't -- choices of thought and language that helped those 8-year old students more deeply understand the timeless wisdom embedded in the Quran and how each of them could live their lives in harmony with that wisdom.

A WORD TO THE WISE: If you are a teacher, parent, grandparent, big brother, or big sister and find yourself reading or telling a story to a child, please be mindful of the way in which you frame the moral of the story. Like the second graders in Ms. Najma's class, it is all too easy to default to the cautionary tale zone -- to use story as a way to control behavior -- to warn, instill fear, or make wrong. This is not the high path. This is the low road.

The real purpose of stories is to increase the odds of the reader or listener becoming discerning, making wise choices, trusting their higher self, tuning into wisdom, and understanding what it means to be a fully conscious human being.

Using stories like a stick to control behavior is not the way to go. It's a misuse of the sacredness of story and a misuse of your opportunity to help a still-forming human being tap into their higher self. And while it is true that many stories provide a context for children to make distinctions between "good and bad", the real opportunity we have as teachers or parents is to help the young ones think for themselves and make wise choices, not just robotically follow rules, warnings, or the instructions of their elders.

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Al Siraat College
Mitch Ditkoff
Storytelling for the Revolution
13 brief storytelling videos

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

Tangled Up in Blue

Every story, when retold, is a kind of cover by another musician, taking on new twists and turns and dimensions. Done well, it honors the original source material and keeps the story alive and moving people in new ways. Like this version of Dylan's Tangled Up in Blue by K.T. Tunstall.

Thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur for the heads up

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:22 AM | Comments (0)

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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