The stories we tell and the stories we live

The Big Picture

Well, the book I’m reading right now is The Rabbi Rami Guide to Parenting, (Rami Shapiro and Agapi Theodorou, Spirituality and Health books, 2011) and I am finding it both delightful and challenging.

Rabbi Rami talks about the importance of stories.  I agree – I think stories are huge.  It’s more than the stories that we read to our children (though, see below, I think those are important too).  Stories are how we organize fact and understand ourselves, the world around us, and our relationships.  It is these stories that shape who we become, and how we live in the world.

So, for instance, some churches teach this story:  everyone in the world is subject to God’s judgment and is going to hell, except those people who choose to belong to our church, or churches like ours.

A story we heard in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, from former students of residential schools, was this:  “aboriginals are godless savages who must be “civilized” in order to be of any worth or value in society.”

What about the story that is told in advertising – particularly clothing and cosmetic advertising directed at women?  Something like this, for instance:  “you are only of great attractiveness and worth if you are young, thin, and beautiful.  You need all the help you can get – so buy our product!”  As I was doing research as part of my schooling, I read an estimate that we typically encounter something like 3000 sales messages every day, each of which is less about a product than it is about our own deficiency.

Think about what comes into our kids’ lives through news reports, TV shows, and video games.

The stories we tell (consciously or unconsciously) and the stories we live with our children will shape who they become and how they live in the world.  So, Rabbi Rami suggests, it is a good thing for us to be thoughtful and careful about the stories we tell and live with our children.

“Identify the stories you feel matter, articulate and share those stories with your child, and work to live those stories with your child through whatever spiritual practices or religious rituals you see fit.

And yet there is one caveat: do your best to not tell unhealthy stories.

  • An unhealthy story is a story that leaves your children feeling superior to others, or frightened of others who are different from themselves.
  • An unhealthy story is one that excuses violence, exploitation, the dehumanization of people, or inhumane treatment of animals.
  • An unhealthy story is one that places your children in a world of perpetual conflict where friendship is rare if not impossible, where love is limited, where race, religion, creed, and ethnicity determine the value of a person rather than what she does, where collaboration is dismissed as starry eyed idealism, and competition and hoarding are praised over co-operation and sharing.

In short, spiritually healthy stories are those that teach your children to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)”.     –Rami Shapiro, pp.23-24

Perhaps the main difference between Donald Trump and Martin Luther King Jr. are the stories through which they see the world…

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What kind of stories do you want your kids to live into?

I’m not doing justice to Rami Shapiro with this blog – his book is funny, readable, and profound.  It’s hard to come by, but worth the read!  I think I may stay with this for the next post or two…

Practice

The practice this time is reading to our kids.  From child development people to educational specialists to doctors to nearly everyone I have ever heard, everyone seems to agree that reading to children – even very young children – is a very valuable every-day practice.  We used to make reading a part of our kids’ bed-time ritual.  One of my favorite books is Dr. Suess’ Sleep Book.

What are your favorites?  When do you read to your children?

Make sure you read Dave’ followup post.

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