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Toxic Tales-Bigotry and Prejudice

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A couple people have told me that all stories are neutral, they can be good or bad, it just depends on how you tell it.  Although that does apply to many examples and it might make people feel good, it’s not true.  There are some stories that are hurtful and harmful no matter how they are told. Some stories are weaponized and others infused (sometimes unconsciously) with hurtful elements that define the story. Good examples of inherently harmful stories are Tales filled with Bigotry or Prejudice.

Let’s look at two types of prejudicial stories:

  1. Stories created especially to promote and increase hatred of a specific group of people.
  2. Stories with characters that encourage and promote negative images or beliefs around a specific group of people.

Stories that Promote Hate

Example – Blood Libel

This ‘traditional tale’ has been told and retold for centuries. Specific names and places change with time but the plot is consistent.  This anti-sematic story usually begins with the death or disappearance of a non-Jewish child.  Then the discovery of some evidence is found that ties the death to the Jewish community because they needed the victim’s blood to make matzah or wine for a holiday or ritual. This is one of history’s cruel ironies because Jewish law prohibits murder, sacrifice, and consumption of blood.  (note- that’s why kosher meat is salted after it is butchered-to draw out the blood.)

One of the earliest examples of the story can be traced back to 1144 in England.  The story then spread through Europe and beyond.  The myth has been used to justify violence against Jews, leading to the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Unfortunately this story hasn’t  gone away and has been mentioned as recently as 2014 when terrorists sited blood libel as the reason for a shooting in synagogue in Israel.

 

Stories that infuse Negative Stereotypes into a specific group or race:

Example – Little Black Sambo

Little Black Sambo was written by Helen Bannerman in 1899.  The illustrations, some story elements, and names of the three main characters – Little Black Sambo, Black Mumbo, and Black Jumbo – are especially offensive. Although the story isn’t inherently racist, the hurtful images linger and have taken on significance as racist symbols. A new version of the story was released in 1996 with new names and pictures, but many objected saying the story carried too much hateful history.  I suppose you could argue that this story can be retold, but only by changing the elements that connect it to the original story.  By doing that, you’re creating a different story.

Some stories carry histories of hurt that are not easily forgotten.  I’d like to take it one step further.  Maybe they shouldn’t be forgotten.  Are we ignoring or glossing over this history of hatred by changing names, titles, and plot elements of stories that carried prejudicial messages?

 

(note: I considered adding pictures of the cover of Little Black Sambo but decided against it.  I thought it might be hurtful or triggering to some of my blog readers.  If you’d like to see the varied art, search google images using the book’s title.)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Weekly Blog

lost-1605501_1920I started a new series for this blog just a little over a year ago.  I had finished the series on “Junk Stories” and was ready to begin a new series on Toxic Tales: Stories That Cause Harm.  I wrote an outline, began research, and started the first article.

…And then…I stopped.

I stopped working on the series and the blog.  I continued creating spoken word stories and other written content, but the blog drifted into silence.  At first I thought about the content but procrastinated.  Eventually I pushed it out of my mind.

Today is the December 17th, 2018, two weeks before the year is over.  I opened my blog this morning and looked at the picture.  Whatever blocked me from writing a year ago is still here.  I looked at the picture and went about my work until midday when I finally read the last article.  I agree with everything I wrote, so why am I still pushing against writing this series?

Here’s what I’ve come up.

Art is fun.  All art forms are fun to create, experience, and enjoy, and it’s easy to just leave it there.  Stories fill up a lot of our time.  We listen, tell, write, watch, and read stories.  There’s a part of me that just wants to enjoy the story and not think too hard. If I admit (especially on a public blog) that stories can be harmful, I need to take responsibility when I encounter toxic tales. Part of me just wants to have fun, but another (wiser) part of me knows better.

So I’m stepping forward.  Over the next few weeks I’ll explore how stories can be harmful or dangerous. I hope you’ll join me in this (sometimes scary) exploration.

Remembering Mrs. Konningsberg

broken-glassWhen I first moved to New Jersey, I met an elderly woman named Mrs. Konningsberg. She lived in Perth Amboy and every Shabbos (Saturday) afternoon young men from the Yeshiva (Jewish religious college) would come by to visit. She’d put out cookies and drinks in disposable plastic cups and after they left she’d collect all the cookies, saving them for next week and wash out all the plastic cups.  The cookies were very stale and the cups became brittle.  Mrs. Konningsberg was frugal.

Sometimes I’d also come by with my kids for a visit. We’d chat, avoid the cookies, and sometimes she’d tell us about her life.  Mrs. Konningsberg died many years ago, but her story is extraordinary and I’m passing it along.

Anna was born, grew up, and got married in Germany. She and her husband lived a comfortable life, and although the rise of Nazism caused some concerns, their loyal service to the Kaiser during WWI gave them a sense of security.

Then Anna had a dream. Her father, who had died years ago, appeared in the dream and told her to leave.  That was it.  No fireworks or special effect, none the less, the dream disturbed her enough to wake her up.  She woke her husband and told him her dream.  He dismissed it.

The next night she had a similar dream, only this time her dad was angry.  He asked her why they hadn’t left and insisted on them leaving. She again woke her husband.  This time he took her seriously.  After all, things were getting worse, and so he agreed to begin the process of selling the business and home.

On the third day Anna became tired before her husband returned from work.  She fell asleep in her wooden rocking chair.  Her father must have been waiting; shortly after she dozed off he appeared in her dream and began yelling.  “I told you to leave,” he said.  Then he picked up a leather belt and struck her across the face.

Her rocking chair tumbled over causing her to wake up. Just then her husband arrived home.  He picked her up off the floor and discovered a throbbing red welt across her cheek.  Anna made her decision. “You can do what you want, but I’m leaving now, with or without you. Both husband and wife quickly gathered up their valuables and a few personal possessions then boarded the next train out of Germany.

The last train out of Germany.

The last train out of Germany before Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, November 9, 1938,

Mrs. Konningsberg ended her story with a short silence, and then she said “I don’t know exactly what would have happened if we didn’t follow my dream, but I am sure, my father saved us both.

 

Branding is Personal so Own your Own Brand!

By Rivka Willick

I often work with business professionals that struggle with branding.  They work hard on improving their products, skills, and services, but are often lost in the crowd.  They will pour buckets of money into logos, titles, taglines, and web designs only to step away looking like everybody else. Others will spend months or years writing books or creating expensive content rich videos only to turn around and see their slightly altered information promoting another business a few months later.

Why does this happen and why is it so common?  It happens because most people don’t infuse themselves into their branding. Each individual is unique and therefore interesting.  As time passes we become 10,000 stories, each tale making us a bit more complex and intriguing. These stories are an amalgam of life experiences, personal heritage, family legends, imagination, and a wild mix of the culture to which we are constantly exposed.

We are our stories….and that’s a good thing.  Stories are the stickest of all spoken or written communications.  The story format is easy to remember and often hard to forget. It’s the natural branding tool.  Stories also turn bland easily copied information into one-of-a-kind content that will be associated with you and your business.

Let’s say you’re writing an information rich book or video about your area of expertise. Maybe you’ve spent years researching and writing it. Once it’s printed it will only take few minutes to copy and ‘spin’ the contents so it’s technically a different text but has all the same information.  (This can be done with any information thick content). Now let’s say you’re writing the same book or video but you infuse your stories into it.  This not only improves the content by making it easier to comprehend, fun to experience, and memorable but it also infuses your story DNA into the content. It’s easy to recoginze and tough to steal.

This same logic applies to webpages, printed brochures, company names and logos, and marketing materials. When you weave your stories into your content, you will own your brand.

By now you’re probably nodding your head and agreeing, but how do you find the stories?  You can make something up, or maybe dig up a high school essay, but you know that’s not right.  If you are a natural storyteller you might be able to create content on your own, but most professionals know the wisdom of seeking out experts for best results.

I’m a story coach and I help people find their stories.

When they find their stories everything tends to come together. Their branding stands out, writen and video content pops, and communications in general greatly improves.

Story coaching can be done in person or online thorugh Skype or Google Hangout.  It’s time to find your stories so you can stand out from the crowd.

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 3 session package.