Category Archives: stories for social change

Toxic Stories: Stories That Cause Harm

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The story is the most powerful form of communication. This idea not only applies to verbal and written communications but other types of human expression as well.  If a story can be infused into other forms of communication such as  the music, visual art, and dance, they will be more accessible and memorable.

The story structure with its beginning, middle, and end is sticky and approachable. As children, we are drawn to story. When we grow old, we remember and find purpose through our stories. During every stage of our development stories wait for us and we search them out to be entertained, to understand, and to be understood. Stories connect us as individuals, communities, and societies.  Stories allow us to form identities on many levels.

Yep, stories are powerful…

But that doesn’t mean they are always good.

This very powerful form of expression and communication can be used for good and for bad—no, not just bad, some stories can be downright evil.  In my last series of articles, I wrote about junk stories: these stories fill you up like junk food, and if over consumed can affect your mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.  This new series will focus on toxic tales: stories that can cause harm.

We can often look back in time and identify stories in history, literature,writing, and folklore that generated hate, self-loathing, and confusion, but when they are presented as popular culture or “the next big thing,” it’s often difficult for the target audience to understand how toxic a tale can be.

I’m not suggesting that stories, movies, books, or shows should be banned.  Banned content often becomes more popular, besides, poisonous prose is often embraced.  The best way to protect yourself from toxic tales is to learn how to identify it and then refrain from creating, consuming, and/or promoting it.

I will focus on one form of toxic tales at a time focusing on my experience storytelling and story coaching.  Please send me your thoughts about different types of toxic tales…and I encourage you to list specific movies, stories, shows, and books.

 

Next: Toxic Tale #1-Promoting Hate through Discrimination

Weening off Junk Stories (Article 6 in a series of 8)

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I’ve identified junk stories and their risks in earlier articles in this series.  Now it’s time to discuss ways to cut back on an over-saturated diet of junk stories. Junk stories, just like junk food are easy to consume and over indulge.  Many of us wake up and discover we are bloated in junk stories and don’t know how to stop.  Since junk stories come in different forms and we listen, read, and tell stories in different ways, let me suggest several different ways to ween off junk stories.

  1. Come out of isolation – If you are watching shows or movies alone, invite friends or family to sit and watch with you. If you are binge reading junk on line or in print, join a reading group or ask a friend to read what you’re reading.  The very act of sharing will expand the quality of your experience and often encourage exploration into other content.
  2. Investigate the other side – The 24-hour news cycle generates a lot of junk. Most so-called news outlets generate content heavily weighted to one side or the other, seasoned with generous amounts of anger, arrogance, prejudice, and righteousness.  The story format creates sticky content that easily provokes strong feelings, but the imbalanced content greatly reduces the value of stories.  Challenge yourself and seek out the other side (or sides) of the story. As you begin to question the validity of lop-sided news, individual stories will gain complexity – a storytelling equivalent to nutritional value.
  3. Try something new – Variety is said to be the spice of life, but we are often reluctant to change, even if we know the change is for our own good. Familiar might be boring, but it’s also safe and reassuring.  We crave repetition, but we don’t want to be bored so we seek out binge content so we can space out.  Make a contract with yourself to watch, read, or listen to something new for every repeat or repetitive show.
  4. Challenge yourself – Easy isn’t always good. Step out of your comfort zone and include a few stories every week or month that takes effort to understand and digest.  Just as a healthy diet must include complex carbohydrates and lean proteins, a healthy story diet should include quality content that pushes you.
  5. Don’t forget to play and have fun – Quality isn’t dull and great stories can be fun. Give yourself permission to play.

Next Blog: Where to find nutritious stories.

When junk stories become personal (5 in a Series of 8)

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By Rivka Willick

The stories we tell, read, hear, see, and experience become part of our personal life-map which provide a context for each of us to organize and help understand the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual challenges that we face every day. When we fill our life map with a wide range of quality stories, we will be able to explore and embrace individual trials and opportunities. If we’ve filled up on junk, our ability to access memories, emotions, and information will be compromised.

Sometimes we become dependent and begin to identify with the junk stories we’ve consumed. When the world begins to be an extension of addictive or compulsive content, the self will begin to lose bits of its genuineness.

I remember a woman who lived across the street when I was a teenager.  She needed her Soaps every day. She once told me that if she missed even part of one of her afternoon shows, her entire day was ruined.  She also used the characters in the show to fill up her day, they often showed up in conversations.

Discussions of popular stories are commonplace, but if these discussions are only recitations of plot points or characters or if you catch yourself living vicariously through these stories, the junk might be taking over.  Check to see if you are the only one really talking.  Try to expand these conversations into topics that matter. Remember, junk dumbs you down and dulls emotional responses, so push through it.

Junk stories also tend to draw individuals away from others and build a narcissistic attitude.  Are you isolating, monopolizing conversations, or telling personal stories that are self-focused often with a harsh and sometimes offensive edge?  Are you elevating yourself at the cost of others?  If so, please consider reducing your junk story intake.  Push yourself to explore new types of stories and seek out opportunities to interact and empathize with others.

Next Blog:           Weening Off a Junk Story Diet

When Stories Herald Reality

The stories we see and tell sometimes mirror the reality we live. It’s usually easy to shrug it off and call it a coincident, or maybe you’re reading too much into it, but there are times when the storyteller and the fortune teller seem to be one in the same.  Our stories often predict the future and tell us truths about the present even if we don’t want to see or admit it.

China Syndrome  Manchurian-Candidate mocking jay

On March 16th, 1970 The China Syndrome was released in the USA. You might remember the movie starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon, and Michael Douglas about a cover-up and near disaster at a nuclear power plant.  12 days later radios and television stations across the country delivered dramatic reports about a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor located outside of Middletown, PA.  This was, (and still is), the most serious accident to occur in an American commercial nuclear power plant.  A malfunctioning valve caused the problem and the nation waited for days to learn if there were disastrous consequences.

I went to see The China Syndrome on March 27th,   just one day before Three Mile Island incident.  I went back two days later on March 29th in a state of disbelief and amazement.  I wonder what affect the movie had on the collective consciousness; a million people experienced the fear of a nuclear meltdown in a power plant by watching a movie and then it happened for real.

Here are the two taglines that promoted The China Syndrome:

“Today, only a handful of people know what it means…Soon you will know.”

“People who know the meaning of “The China Syndrome” are scared.  Soon-you-will-know.”

 

There were no fatalities or major injuries, but the event was the catalyst for major changes in regulations and standards for nuclear power plants.

 

Frank Sinatra starred in The Manchurian Candidate, a movie about a prisoner of war who is brainwashed and then becomes an assassin. The film was released in October 1962.  President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed November 1963, just a little over a year later.  Back in the sixties movies circulated for a year or two after their release so when The Manchurian Candidate naturally finished its run, the rumor spread that it was yanked because of the assassination. People saw the connection between the story and reality and jumped to their own conclusion.  We search for (and create) stories to help us make sense of life events that are often too difficult to embrace head-on.

 

Last night my 18-year-old daughter, Chaya, and I went out to see The Mocking Jay, Part One.  It’s the third movie in the Hunger Games series.  We both read the books and liked the first two movies, so we were excited to see the third. The Hunger Games is about a futuristic society.  The wealthy and powerful Capital controls and oppresses the poorer districts by forcing them to sacrifice a few young people each year to a televised fight with only one victor.  The third movie is about the rebellion.

About 15 or 20 minutes into the movies we see a few of the poorer districts (filled with people of color) forced to watch public executions. A few minutes later we see them fight back.  My daughter turned to me and said “Oh my gosh, it’s just like Ferguson.”  As the movie continued the connection became even clearer.

The Mocking Jay Part 1 came out November 21st and three days later on November 24th the Grand Jury Announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charge in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Riots and protests followed.

Once again story became the herald of our reality.