SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Storytelling the Future

My first storytelling session was in a Multi Ability classroom of a Special School ( Vidya Sagar) in Chennai. Year 1996.
 I took the children to the garden, we sat around and we had a bucket of water in the middle. Each child had a puppet in their hand – made with simple newspaper; a lion, a rabbit and a few more animals. As we peered into it, we saw our reflection.  So by now you may know what story I went on to tell. The Panchatantra tale of the Lion and the Rabbit and how the rabbit outwits the lion. This experience triggered a series of reactions. The children (a few of them) started noticing and looking at themselves on reflecting surfaces - as that is what they took back from that story experience. It is mind think of this cause and effect in retrospect...
 It was an experience for the children. That story allowed children to experience an idea, a concept, abstract or literal notions within the space of a narrative arc.

As a storyteller I create a safe space for the child to go on a journey, to step into a space that is co- created (a world of our mutual creation), where imagination is the vehicle that drives us through many lands, validating what they know already and introducing new things and at the same time acknowledging every little thing that the child wishes to bring into that space – their thoughts, feelings and experiences in order to reach a destination, a place where they are emotionally stronger.

We all know Humans are hardwired for stories, and storytelling has been the most ancient method existing to pass on knowledge, ideas, values, and beliefs. Yet we in the field of education struggle to include it in our day to day life and curriculum.
The Aha moment for me was when I realised the reason for this is we don’t recognise what Storytelling is about and we have forgotten that we are all Storytellers. We just have to be present to this fact and find opportunities in the classroom to tell stories. We have to create a Climate of Storytelling within the classroom in order to provide an Immersive Storytelling Experience for the child and it starts in preschool.
“Storytelling is a gift of understanding the self, others and the story itself (Dr.Mary F Lenox in an article on telling multicultural tales).

There is the Story, the Storyteller and the Audience.
·        Let me tell you about the STORY - Story is not just Book with pictures, nor is it Panchatantra/ Jataka tale/ Aesop fable with a value/ moral at the end. Most teachers are given a story to tell, and they don’t even connect with the story. Or they tell a story without really understanding why they are telling it. According to Dr. Mary Read Macdonald, the Grandma of Storytelling, all one needs is a good story to tell – but we don’t spend enough time thinking about the stories we are going to tell.
So we need Reading Circles for the Teachers, tell each other stories, practise, and decide what stories you would like to tell. I sincerely believe the Teacher must decide what stories they want to tell. Find the Story

·        Create the Space: Storytelling is a way to facilitate Listening and Awareness – You need to create a space to transport the child – like an orchestra conductor who has a place to stand, a storyteller must create the space for storytelling.
·        Storytelling is a ritual where the story is an offering. Create your own rituals and systems that resonate with you and the audience. Do it every time...sometime just tuning into the audience will help you find this ritual.
·        Tell stories at every opportunity you can get or create opportunities within the class to tell stories.
·        Tell Stories from Personal experience, Traditional Tales, Made up stories
·        Play around with the story – Story Acting, Ask Children to Dictate (Vivian Paley in her seminal work called “Helicopter Stories – let the imagination fly” goes into detail about it).
·        Make up Stories from objects around the class/ house. Even the mathematical operations can be storified (Emperor Equal, Angel Addition, Duke Division – Waldorf Schools use storytelling at every opportunity.Very small children are taught through songs....and then progress to Fairy Tales, Mythology and Made up tales.)

The Teacher has to don the Storyteller persona – feel comfortable in that skin, According to Eleanor Duckworth (a Harvard trained educationist) The teacher must use what she already knows and question what she has and that is the way to becoming better and better at what she does. Building a Storytelling Classroom is essential. We don’t have to invent the wheel again. We need to reflect back in time to the days when Stories were used as didactic tools and then learn to apply it to the ever morphing Chimera that is the 21st century. There are many workable systems available which can be applied into the classroom...all we need is to see value in the methodology and then tell more stories.
Lets gather together to say “Once Upon a Time”.

# This is the presentation given by me at the Panel Discussion on "Storytelling for Preschool" , held at VHD Institute in April 2017. I was giving my perspective as a Storyteller and the other panelists were wonderfully multitalented from the Theatre, Education, Counselor and Content creator spaces.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Perspective - The Rose Bush and the Snail (HCAnderson)

The Rose Bush & the Snail -

by Hans Christian Anderson
A hedge of hazel-nut bushes encircled the garden;  but in the centre of the garden stood a rose-tree, and under it sat a snail--she had much within her, she had herself.
"Wait, until my time comes," said she, "I shall accomplish something more than putting forth roses, bearing nuts, or giving milk, like the cows and sheep!"
"I expect something fearfully grand," said the rose-tree, "may I ask when it will take place?"
"I shall take my time," said the snail, "you are in too great a hurry, and when that is the case, how can one's expectations be fulfilled?"
The next year the snail lay in about the same spot under the rose-tree, which put forth buds and developed roses, ever fresh, ever new. The snail half crept forth, stretched out its feelers and drew itself in again.

"Everything looks as it did a year ago! No progress has been made; the rose-tree still bears roses; it does not get along any farther!"
The summer faded away, the autumn passed, the rose-tree constantly bore flowers and buds, until the snow fell, and the weather was raw and damp. The rose-tree bent itself towards the earth, the snail crept in the earth.
A new year commenced; the roses came out, and the snail came out.
"Now you are an old rose bush," said the snail, "you will soon die away. You have given the world everything that you had in you; whether that be much or little is a question, upon which I have not time to reflect. But it is quite evident, that you have not done the slightest thing towards your inward development; otherwise I suppose that something different would have sprung from you. Can you answer this? You will soon be nothing but a stick! Can you understand what I say?"
"You startle me," said the rose-tree, "I have never thought upon that!"
"No, I suppose that you have never meddled much with thinking! Can you tell me why you blossom? And how it withers? How? Why?"
"No," said the rose-tree, "I blossom with pleasure because I could not do otherwise. The sun was so warm, the air so refreshing, I drank the clear dew and the fortifying rain; I breathed, I lived! A strength came to me from the earth, a strength came from above, I felt a happiness, ever new, ever great and therefore I must blossom ever, that was my life, I could not do otherwise!"
"You have led a very easy life!" said the snail.
"Certainly, everything has been given to me," said the rose-tree, "but still more has been given to you. You are one of those meditative, pensive, profound natures, one of the highly gifted, that astound the whole world!"
"I have assuredly no such thought in my mind," said the snail, "the world is nothing to me! What have I to do with the world? I have enough with myself, and enough in myself!"
"But should we not all, here on earth, give the best part of us to others? Offer what we can!--It is true, that I have only given roses--but you? You who have received so much, what have you given to the world? What do you give her?"
"What I have given? What I give? I spit upon her! She is good for nothing! I have nothing to do with her. Put forth roses, you can do no more! Let the hazel bushes bear nuts! Let the cows and sheep give milk; they have each their audience, I have mine within myself! I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me!"
And thereupon the snail withdrew into her house and closed it.
"That is so sad," said the rose-tree, "with the best will, I cannot creep in, I must ever spring out, spring forth in roses. The leaves drop off and are blown away by the wind. Yet, I saw one of the roses laid in the hymn-book of the mother of the family; one of my roses was placed upon the breast of a charming young girl, and one was kissed with joy by a child's mouth. This did me so much good, it was a real blessing! That is my recollection, my life!"
And the rose-tree flowered in innocence, and the snail sat indifferently in her house. The world was nothing to her.
And years passed away. The snail became earth to earth and the rose-tree became earth to earth; the remembrances in the hymn-book were also blown away--but new rose-trees bloomed in the garden, new snails grew in the garden; they crept in their houses and spat.--The world is nothing to them.
Shall we read the story of the past again? It will not be different.

This kind of story is a fable. Where an animal is humanised and conveys a perspective to life. Gaining perspective is the sole purpose of life I think.
Here the snail admonishes the Rosebush for not looking inward and not having a purpose in life...yet what the rosebush can do the snail cannot, and the rosebush is our typical extrovert and the snail perhaps an introvert.. and then that leads us to the ultimate truth that nothing is permanent...not even a thought...
It is all about gaining perspective in life and being ok with that...for every perspective leads us on a way much like "two roads diverged in a yellow wood".
This character strength is especially useful when trying to make sense of a life choice or make decisions and especially to help us connect our insides with the outside...
What a beautiful story..a bit too deep and perhaps has to be adapted for children. 
What a fable!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Integrity - The 3 Diamonds - Tamil folktale

Integrity - Is being true to ourselves. Only if we are true with ourselves can we aim to be true to others. So there is  a big element of Self Awareness and Self Respect involved in this. Only if we have this character strength will others trust us. Integrity is about walking the talk!

Folktales have handled Integrity in many ways - cautionary tales that tell you what happens when Integrity is lost. Some tales use sacrifice to illustrate Integrity, where the Hero/ Heroine have to give up something in order to keep their word.
Some wonderful tales such as Punyakoti the Cow and Arputha the Tiger. Though the original version tells us that the tiger jumped off a cliff and sacrificed himself, in order to atone for his sin of desiring such a  virtuous cow as Punyakoti, others have adapted this tale (called as disordered narrative), to have the tiger let go of the cow, in peace.

Another tale is the Boiled Seeds ( Empty Pot story) that is supposed to be Chinese in origin, which tells us about  a little boy who becomes the emperor for he admits that he could not grow anything from the seeds given to him and it turns out they were boiled seeds.

This particular story called : The 3 Diamonds; is a Tamil folktale.
There is an online version by David Heathfield which I have used for my reference. I like this story at many levels for it shows that integrity can exist even in a person who seems to have done something wrong. Yet to evaluate what it means to us is of utmost importance -which is being true and honest to ourselves is more important than any other strength.

Vocabulary for Use


The 3 Diamonds (adapted)
In a village lived a young boy with his grandmother. Having lost his father and mother at a very young age, he was raised by his grandmother and also being poor and with no other means he had turned to robbing as his profession. Weary of his ways, his grandmother begged and pleaded with him to give up robbing or take up an honest trade or atleast to speak the truth.

The young boy confessed that he robbed to feed themselves and as he knew no other trade the only thing he could do was choose the last. He vowed he would always speak the truth even though he followed a dishonest profession.
One day as he was out on his usual rounds looking for a house to rob, he came across a beggar.
Let me tell you that this beggar was actually the Rajah in disguise who ventured out of his palace at times to understand the people of his kingdom.

"Where are you going?" asked the beggar to the thief.

Remember his vow to his grandmother? Well he had to tell the truth to the beggar. So he told the beggar his plan to enter the Rajah's palace and steal something from there.

"HaHaHa, the Rajah's palace? Well I can help you there, Come with me." said the beggar and he took the thief to a street adjacent to the palace and told him in a hushed tone to enter when the guards were changing and to go right to the Rajah's throne room. Once inside, he was to look for a box under the Rajah's throne and to open it for inside that he would find a treasure.

The thief expertly entered the palace and quickly made his way to the Rajah's throne room. Just as the beggar had said he found a box under the throne and when he opened it he saw....

3 shining priceless diamonds!!

He picked up all 3, but just at that moment he hesitated and asked himself the question: "Do I need all 3 diamonds. Even one will give me a lot of money with which I can take care of my grandmother and myself"

Having had this thought and it being a truthful one, he left one in the box and took only two with him and left the same way he had come.

Outside the palace he met the beggar. "Did you find the treasure?" asked the beggar.

 "Yes I did. Thank you for your help and it is only correct that I share this with you" he said and gave one diamond to the beggar and quickly left from there..

The beggar followed the thief silently and saw him enter his humble hut at the edge of the town.

The beggar now went back to his own place. Yes! Went back to the palace.

The next morning he called his Mantri and said: "There has been a robbery last night, search the palace and find out what is missing".

The Mantri searched the throne room thoroughly and soon found the box under the throne open and two of the diamonds missing. "The thief appears to have taken only 2 diamonds, what a strange fellow" he said and quietly instead placed the diamond in his own pocket.

"Rajah the diamonds are missing" he announced grandly and showed the empty box.

"Empty?" asked the Rajah

"Yes. Most definitely" said the Mantri.

"The thief lives in a hut at the edge of town, go and bring him to the Town square immediately. Justice will be done" said the King wisely.

The Mantri hurried to the hut and quickly dragged the thief to the Town Square where the Rajah too reached very soon.

A guard stood ready to chop off the thief's head and the whole town had gathered to see the tamasha.

"Have you stolen 3 diamonds from under the King's throne?"asked the Mantri

"Yes I have stolen, but I took only two, not three" said the thief, for he had vowed to tell the truth to his grandmother.

"Liar" shouted the Mantri, "Which thief takes two when he can take three, show them to us"

" I have one here with me but the other I gave it to a beggar for helping me"

"Again you lie, which thief shares his loot. Off with his head" Shouted the Mantri almost hysterically.

"Wait, he tells the truth. I was the beggar in disguise to whom he gave the diamond" said the Rajah to the shocked people as he opened his palm to show the other diamond.

"As for the third diamond, I think I know who may have it. Guards, search our Mantri's pocket inside out" said the Rajah.

Correctly enough the guards found the third diamond in the Mantri's pocket.

"People of my land, tell me who should I punish now? This scoundrel Mantri or the honest thief?" asked the king.

"The Mantri must be punished and the thief rewarded" yelled the people in one voice.

"This boy's honesty and integrity is worthy of him becoming my advisor, so let him decide what is to be done to the other" said the Rajah.

" Everybody deserves another chance, so let him go, but let him be stripped of all his status and wealth. Let him know what it is to be poor. I too have made mistakes and this is my second chance. I promise to tell the truth always and to serve this land under your wise rule Oh Rajah" said the new advisor.