Lesson learnt

I told the Plain Jack story today and told the parents that the story was for the children and it was up to them to work out the lesson. It might sound patronising when written down, but when I’m dressed in character and talking with families I am able to meet everyone with an absolutely unguarded eye to make a connection based on absolute equality. I’m aiming to invite the adults to listen with consideration and not just switch off and daydream while their children are being entertained.

I have seen many children’s entertainers and they often appeal to children’s need to join together with laughter and get giggly and excited and make jokes for the adults at the children’s expense with the children’s innocence protecting them from getting the joke and being hurt. I think that’s a cheap way to get a laugh and though it does seem to work from the outside – adults see children enjoying themselves and have a laugh too, it is shallow, pointless and quickly forgotten.

I used to find it hard performing to children and adults and I could only look at the children in the eye, I was a bit frightened of being judged I suppose. I think I thought that most adults understand and know more than me, so while I can meet a child’s eye with equality I am on my guard with adults. I’m not comfortable with making a joke out of the children, so I have found a different and dare I say (yes, I dare!) better way. I find it easier to hide behind a costume that exaggerates my features for little eyes and allows adults to accept me as a daft looking character instead of feeling threatened by me being a know all.

I know that deep in our hearts we are all children and if I am kind and make it clear that I won’t embarrass anyone I can get the adults united with their children to listen on an equal basis. That’s when the real magic happens. I do involve the adults, but I’ve found a way to do it that allows them to enjoy doing whatever I get them to do and feel proud of their efforts rather than feeling too proud to condescend themselves. Does that make sense?

So today’s moment of magic was in the first group telling the Plain Jack story and saying the last bit about the 2 horses, one with a great talent who didn’t use it and the one with a little talent who used it all. I almost got emotional, I may have even gulped – I could really feel the empathy energy flowing out from the listeners as they all obviously felt themselves to be like Plain Jack and proud of his lifetime of trying hard.

In the second session there were 2 men at the back who were listening so hard and openly it was truly beautiful. The sessions were free to the locality which is quite deprived. I felt as if they got the story, not just for themselves now, but also remembering how they must have been told such stories as a child and how that made them feel then and also feeling for their own children being told to be glad of their humble backgrounds as then all their achievements will be down to their own efforts.

That’s what all the best stories do, they reward goodness, effort and standing up for the oppressed and frown upon pride, anger, following the herd. We are all equal at the end of the day, we all have our own learning journeys to go on and we will make mistakes along the way, but it is what we learn from our failures that makes us the ultimate human we have it within us to be.

I continue to enjoy learning how to be better through my life and I am grateful for my upbringing and the path I have taken that I have the opportunity to feel that wonderful life changing empathy on an almost daily basis. Either in helping my daughters enjoy applying their knowledge, moments of group anticipation – I lead singing at playgroup and we sing this sleeping bunnies song and I can usually manage a moment of absolute silent anticipation while all the children wait to… WAKE UP BUNNIES!!! and hop about, and then in moments from when I’m storytelling and I can feel the audience have gone on a little journey with me and allowed their minds to be opened just a little bit.

From the outside I might appear to be a crazy lady entertaining kids as I can’t get a proper job, but on the inside I am deeply thoughtful about the change I hope to make to people’s perception of themselves which is the most rewarding reward I could ever imagine. I do believe there is only one right way to be, and I know that thought is controversial, but there truly is only one path for all of us. We can only follow our true, selfless empathetic path by always making decisions that factor in the consequences of our actions for everyone else and amending our actions if they hurt anyone. Modern society is geared up to value extrinsic reward, so we are encouraged to believe that any path we choose is right as that is our choice and we know best for us, but if we value our needs to be greater than the needs of others and we value money and status over empathy/unconditional love we will find ourselves on a path alright, but it might not be the best path to make us a better, more understanding empathetic being. It’s never too late to get back on the right path, not to please anyone else or win approval, just for yourself. If life is a competition (I don’t think it is, I think it’s a game you only win by sticking to the rules) then believing we are in competition with anyone but ourselves is a delusion.


With power comes responsibility – why beliefs matter

(I wrote this for a competition for radio 2’s thought for the day – I didn’t win!)

Being Good

The other day I went into my eldest daughter’s school to tell stories of the Amazon for their topic. I had learned a few stories of spirits who live in the jungle who punish people if they cause harm to the trees, the animals or other people. I used a storyteller trick of leaving the punishment to the imagination so they actively used their own minds to come up with “The worst punishment you can possibly imagine”.

At the end the children were all gazing at me wide eyed, the energy and power I felt from so many children hanging off my every word made me feel tremendously responsible. They all wanted more detail about the spirits, especially what the punishment was, I reiterated that it was the worst punishment you can possibly imagine and one little girl mouthed “you die”. My next words needed to give them power over their fears. I made it clear that the spirits only punish those who do the wrong thing so we can be glad as that means they are looking out for us to make sure nobody harms us.(I could have scared them into being good by saying they’ll be fine so long as they never do the wrong thing, but I’m not a catholic)


From this I realised 2 very important things, firstly it is what we don’t say that has the most power and secondly, the way we feel about being judged depends if we believe ourselves to be good or bad.


We all try to be good as we are taught that being good will earn approval, but if those from whom we seek approval are silent, the power of the silence makes us try even harder to please to the detriment of our true self.


That is where faith and religion come in. We need to have faith that we are good and worthy of approval from the start, if we believe it, then it is so. Religions give us the rules to live by, if we break the rules we will be told so we can be forgiven and learn. It is our behaviour that we are judged on and it is our behaviour that we can always change to ensure we are always judged to be good.


Jonah and Pinocchio

We went to messy church today and the story was Jonah and the Whale. If you don’t know it, basically God told Jonah (or Jonah just dreamed it from his own mind, if that makes it easier to swallow(?!)) to go and spread the word to the Naverenes as they were living badly and said if they didn’t reform in 40 days he’d do something dreadful. Jonah didn’t like the Naverenes so went off somewhere else instead on a boat. God sent a storm, so Jonah asked to be thrown overboard and got swallowed whole by a whale. After 3 days in the whale he got spat out and he went to speak to the Naverenes who mended their ways.

I don’t know if there is any literal truth to the story- has anyone ever survived inside a whale? But the message is simple and relevant:

Jonah is wrong to pass judgement and discriminate against the Naverenes.

God (or good humans if the word God offends) will always forgive wrongdoing once responsibility is taken and people make a change – Jonah and the Naverenes.

I personally don’t like the fact that the original message carries a threat, I think that is wrong as people should be enabled to choose the right path without being forced to as then they will live in fear and may only do the right thing as they are fearful, rather than because they truly believe it is the right thing. I guess Jonah could just tell them the real consequences of their wrongdoing? e.g. being selfish and greedy won’t make you happy, if everyone behaves like this you won’t be able to trust your fellow man so you’ll live in doubt and fear. If everyone behaves selflessly and acts with love for their fellow man, you can trust others and live life in joy and peace. 

So what about Pinocchio? It’s almost the same as Jonah, but more detailed. We accept the story as we know it is made up and respect the author’s intent. It is a simple story of redemption and Pinocchio straying from the path of learning – please note, learning isn’t simply accruing facts, it is also about achieving understanding and empathy for the whole of humanity and our environment. Eventually after a trip to the hellish funfair of delights where he ends up looking an ass he has to sacrifice himself into the sea to learn the truth of the consequences of his actions. Then he becomes a real boy and no longer a puppet.

I wonder if our current capitalist society isn’t making asses of us all as we respond puppetlike to the demands of state, advertising and a selfish (teenage, emotionally immature) society to earn more, want more and sacrifice our children to the same future?

Maybe if we sacrificed our know all attitude that makes us so easy to manipulate (like puppets) and accepted the “real boy/girl” deep in our hearts, we could get off the capitalist wheel of doom and wake up to the truth and beauty of the world around us? Will we encourage our children to follow their own path of learning through life, doing what they enjoy most? Or will we decide for them the path they should take that will lead to a good job at the end? What is more important? Living life in enjoyment with an ever open and inquiring mind? Or getting through life without rocking the boat or standing out as different to end up with status and power/money/knowledge over others?


Knowledge without understanding and empathy is useless. Learning isn’t about knowing facts, it is about understanding how to apply those facts for the common good.


It’s strange that on the one hand we want our children to be treated as unique individuals, but we also want them to fit in and behave like all the other children so they aren’t bullied for being different. Doesn’t that make them more susceptible to bullying as we teach them to behave as puppets with parents/teachers/authority/peer pressure/selfish society holding the strings? 

I prefer to teach my children that they are different to other children and point out the disadvantages we live with compared to other children in their peer group. However, in truth we are so lucky to have all that we have and we ought to look out for those less fortunate than ourselves. It is wrong to discriminate against people for things they cannot change, but it is perfectly OK to discriminate among children in your class who behave badly towards you. Never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if others think you are wrong, but at the same time be prepared to listen to those who hold different views and allow your understanding to deepen as you accept new ideas.