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Storytelling for the Classroom 2
by Michael Berman

To Storytelling for the Classroom 1

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies and place burdens on ourselves as a result of the language we use. The Story Of The Man Who Always Said Should can be used to illustrate how this can happen. But by making use of techniques such as reformulation, we can change both our attitudes and our behaviour. The Notes For Teachers that follow the tale explain how this can be done.

The Story of the Man Who Always Said Should

He was always telling people what they should or shouldn't do and he knew best about everything. He didn't realize that should is probably the most damaging word in the English vocabulary. It implies you were wrong, you are wrong, or you're going to be wrong. What people really need is more choice in their lives, the choice offered by replacing all shoulds with could.

At least you could say, he practised what he preached because he behaved the same way towards himself as he behaved towards everyone else. All the time the voice inside his own head was making statements about what he should and shouldn't do, how he should live his life and I suppose that's why he then imposed the same on others. Poor man. I wonder if he ever got any peace. Probably only when he was sleeping. And perhaps not even then. Who knows what he went through in his dreams? Probably constant torment. Not surprising he lost all his hair and ended up having a heart attack. But he didn't even learn from that. For once he'd recovered from the triple by-pass operation his condition necessitated, he started acting just as he had done before. In fact, if anything, he became even more unbearable. To put up with him you had to be a saint. And that's exactly what his dear wife was.

However, gradually through his constant criticism, he destroyed even her. He hammered away at her daily until she no longer had any mind of her own. Her actions became dictated by what she thought he believed she should or shouldn't do. That's when he lost interest in her and left her for another woman - someone else to mould into his likeness. Three days later she killed herself.

After that he became a changed man. He got himself committed to an asylum, which suited him just fine. He was drugged up to the eyeballs daily, his nagging inner voice was silenced forever, and he no longer had to make any choices at all. They were all made for him there.

I suppose he's found peace of mind of a kind. He spends his days sitting glued to the TV watching soap operas. The only choice to be made is which channel to watch. And he doesn't even have to make that decision as the nurse on duty does that for him. No more shoulds or shouldn'ts to worry about and that's the way he likes it - much safer by far.

Notes for teachers:
Pre-listening: You might like to discuss the following questions with the group as a lead-in to the tale.

Can you accept people the way they are or are you always trying to change them?
Is it possible to change the way people think by pressurizing them or do you believe we can only learn from our own mistakes?

Post-listening: Ask the learners to make a list of all the things they think they should do. Allow a ten-minute time limit. Then ask them to reformulate the items in their lists by using the following wording: If I really wanted to, I could …..

They will probably find some things now seem much more possible and there are other things which they now want to abandon. Could gives you choice!

The burdens that we carry on our shoulders can be reflected in our dreams and keeping a dream journal can help us to learn from them. For those of you who have difficulty in remembering what you dream, they say that hanging owl feathers above your bed can facilitate the process. Another useful device is to make a note of your dreams immediately you wake up before you even move from the bed. The moment you start moving, you start forgetting. As for the interpretation, there is no need to strain for it as it will come to you when the time is right, often when you are least expecting it.

The Dreams of a King

Once upon a time (perhaps it was yesterday or maybe even tomorrow) in a land far away (or maybe closer than you think) there lived a king who was plagued by a recurrent nightmare, of a fruit tree that would bear no fruit.

Despite his enormous wealth, never having learnt how to relate to people, the King was in fact an extremely lonely man. However, over the years he had learnt how to compensate for his discomfort with people by spending more and more time in his extensive gardens, which became so much of an obsession with the King that nothing else seemed to matter to him.

Not content with merely supervising the work on the land, the King went to great pains to ensure it was fully protected from any unwelcome intruders by surrounding the Palace grounds with all the latest security measures - ferocious guard dogs, high walls, fences of razor wire and 24-hour video surveillance - all with the purpose of ensuring his Garden of Eden was truly impenetrable. In view of the King's obsession, the consternation the recent spate of dreams had caused the monarch came as no surprise to those who knew him well.

Night after night, as soon as the King laid his royal head on the pillow and closed his eyes, the vision would return to haunt him and give him no peace. At his wits end, the sovereign turned to his advisors who summoned the leading medical experts from all over the land to examine him and diagnose the cause of his condition.

Their recommendations were as varied as their specialities, ranging from sleeping on a bed of nails to the application of blood-sucking leeches, from the King drinking three glasses of his own urine daily to a strict seven-day fast. Being a renowned gourmet, it was this last suggestion that displeased him the most and he responded by having the nutritionist who suggested it beheaded. Not surprisingly, the visits from the various specialists dried up after that.

In desperation, the King sent for his Head Gardener, a wise old soul who was never afraid to say what he thought regardless of whether it met with royal approval or not. As an expert on the folklore of trees, surely his trusted and loyal servant would be able to interpret the meaning of the dream and so put an end to his suffering.

When the Head Gardener heard the dream, his interpretation, to the King's surprise, was a positive one. "Sometimes the trees that do bear fruit only sustain those who are beyond salvation and who serve no useful purpose in any case. At least the tree in your dream cannot be misused in this way."

On hearing this, the King responded by asking to be left on his own as he wanted time to reflect on his trusted servant's strange interpretation, which left him even more puzzled than he had been before. It was a hot, sticky, summer afternoon and as he lay on the couch by the window overlooking the gardens, he soon drifted off to sleep.

As usual, he found himself standing in front of the fruit tree but this time it was dripping with fruit - exotic fruit of all shapes and sizes, the likes of which the King had never seen before. And the fruit tree was surrounded by all the King's courtiers who were gorging themselves on the succulent produce, stuffing themselves silly. Meanwhile, the poor people excluded from the Royal Gardens by the high railings, could only look on hungrily and watch the proceedings. As for the King, he had never noticed the crowds outside the railings before. In fact, he had become so engrossed in his garden over the years, to the detriment of everything else, that he'd forgotten they even existed.

The new dream, in a way, was even more disturbing than the previous one and left the King a chastened man. He immediately resolved to summon all his people to the Main Hall to deliver a speech. Nobody could remember the last time the King had shown any interest in addressing his subjects so the Hall was packed to bursting point for this extraordinary occasion.

" Never having had the opportunity to relate to my fellow human beings as an equal, I have always felt uncomfortable in the company of others and have devoted my life to caring for my vegetables and trees instead. And in my greed to protect what I falsely believed belonged to me, I did everything in my power to ensure that the fruit of my labour would be inaccessible to everyone else. But I know now that we will be provided for and that we should give thanks for what we will be given even before we receive it. For it is only by showing faith that our needs can be met. Instead of directing our energies to protecting what was never intended to belong to anyone in the first place, our time would be better spent in ensuring its equal distribution to all. So from this day on, I decree that the gates of the Palace will always be open, open to everyone whatever their status might be. And I have every confidence that rather than leading to any shortage, the result will be more than enough for everyone."

And from that day on, nobody in the Kingdom ever went short of food again. As for the King, by mingling among the visitors who came to the Garden, dressed inconspicuously in his overalls, he gradually learnt how to relate to people and began to enjoy life in a way that he had never imagined possible before. And the nightmares? They never returned.

Notes for teachers:
re-listening: The story that follows is about a king who suffered from recurrent nightmares. Have you ever had problems like this? What can be tried to solve such problems?

Before reading the tale, ask the participants to predict what the king's dreams were about. They can then compare their versions with the original.

While-listening: Pause after the paragraph ending 'put an end to his suffering' and ask the learners to predict the gardener's interpretation of the dream. They can then compare their versions with the original.

Post-listening: As a follow-up to the story, you might like to discuss the following: It is only by showing faith that our needs can be met. How far do you agree with this statement?

Ask the participants to produce parallel stories of their own, working in small groups. Here are some suggested titles: The Dreams of a Short Man / The Dreams of a Fat Man / The Dreams of a Bald Man / The Dreams of an Old Man / The Dreams of a Single Man / The Dreams of a Poor Man / The Dreams of a Young Man

To part three of the article

To Storytelling for the Classroom 1

To Michael's article 'Warrior, Settler or Nomad?'

To 'A Beginner's Guide To Storytelling lesson plan'

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