“THE BEST ANTI-BULLYING ASSEMBLY WE’VE EVER HAD, HANDS-DOWN”
A school principal wrote me recently, commenting on GOLDEN RULE, my storytelling assembly for elementary kids. Sure, I tell stories for adults, but it’s close to my heart, this empathy issue. Kids raised without notions of civility and simple human kindness toward others––no matter what somebody else looks like or where they come from––just makes the bullies feel that power. In the long run, though, it hurts them just as much.
Although many Americans follow faith traditions, just as many don’t these days, and with that change has come a loss of religious teaching stories, traditionally told to kids by adults in their lives. In their absence and in the presence of cynical cartoons and visual games, the fabric of civility has worn thin in lots of children. It’s not their fault. They’re kids. They’re not born civil; they need to be taught why it’s important.
Be kind. Treat others honorably. Yes, you can say those things to kids, but nothing penetrates the cruelty they see in media like a spoken-world story told by an adult. Instead of saying “do this,” a good Golden Rule story simply offers a lesson about power and its uses. Kids can’t help but internalize its impact because they’ve been opened up. They’ve been opened up because their minds are overwhelmed. The boys. The girls. The ADHD kids, all attentive. With the voices, music and wild sounds, the storytelling is too evanescent for them to ignore.
At a public school in Massachusetts the other day, my young audience looked like the United Nations. Kids from everywhere. Never knowing what religions, if any, their families practice at home, I tell stories from non-religious wisdom traditions. Folktales from Japan, Ireland, Africa, India and Italy. And Aesop’s Fables from ancient Greece, which is about all I can fit into an hour. But I always ask the kids the same questions about them afterwards, and about the Golden Rule.
And if they’ve never heard “Treat others the way you would like to be treated” before they’ve attended a GOLDEN RULE assembly, they certainly know it by the time it’s over.
If kids don’t get these kinds of stories from adults in America when they’re young, stories that buoy up their best angels and sink into their souls, when they get to high school, more and more of them are so fragile and full of violence that they misuse their power and end up thinking it’s okay to bring guns to class, and all to often these days, in the ultimate act of bullying, to use them.