Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Storyteller

Several months ago, I was running a kids' group at the domestic violence shelter where I work with kids and teens. The boy who volunteered to 'tell a story' (instructions: "It can't be about yourself or anyone you know") did a wonderful job with almost professional drama, gestures, and vocal changes. Most kids his age prefer to do a reality therapy exercise with me but I gave him the go-ahead, interested in what kind of story he'd tell.

Not quite a teen, this boy was tall, strong, and a big teddy bear. He loved little kids and babies, did well with them. In turn, they loved and respected him. His story (much shortened) was that long ago there was a tiger that kept attacking a small village, killing a woman each time. The women, fearing for their lives when he appeared, always rushed into their huts and locked the only door it possessed. Each time, the tiger managed to get inside and kill the woman. The boy's "moral of the story" was something like "Women have to watch it."

In return, I told a story (also condensed here) starting with the same characters and situation. In my story, several women were killed, but one woman figured out that the tiger could be thwarted. She urged each woman to build a small escape door at the back of the hut where she would hide a knife or meat in case the tiger actually became a serious threat. As soon as she escaped the hut, she should climb a tall tree and beat a drum she'd tied to a branch. When the village men heard the drum, they must come and trap, frighten off, or kill the tiger. My "moral": "Women must learn to help themselves and to ask for help."

Both these stories were spontaneous, not rehearsed. I wasn't sure if this boy had identified with the abuser or his victim, so I directed my story more at consequences for "tigers" when women become stronger.

Both women and men, however, can play a role in changing the constant, violent messages in our society. Men and women can model strength and patience when they are treated poorly, forbid violence among children and not use it themselves. Monitor or remove potentially violent TV shows, films, games, music, books, etc. in their homes. Strive to accept human shortcomings, including their own, and treat everyone with kindness and respect.

I'm sure I've left out so much that can be done to reduce kids' and teens' growing exposure to and/or acceptance of violence. A good start would be to provide anti-violence curricula in all schools, as well as in medical, law-enforcement, judicial, and other professional settings. We must also improve and think carefully about existing and future domestic violence laws.

If we do nothing, nothing will change. So do something. Help the next generation respond to control, stress, and failure with something other than violence.

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