We managed to pass the threshold. We had fifteen eight grade students in front of us, most of them boys. They were feeling uncomfortable still, shooting remarks at each other across the room. I moved forward and presented them Kevin’s two prompting requests “Tell us a story about being “boxed” in. Tell us a story about leaving the “box.”
Forget it. They had no intention of telling anything. “Oh,” I said, “I don’t mean a STORY, just ideas. What do these questions connect to in your life? Feeling or being boxed, leaving the box…” the boys started a round of giggling. I knew what they were thinking about, “yes, that too goes under the umbrella of this metaphor if you would like to share.”
One of the boys gave it a shot, “knowing that a teacher is behaving in a wrong way and knowing that you have no one to bring this to.” I wrote it down on the board. “Being so cross with your folks that you run away from home,” said one of the girls, “I did that you know” she added. “Well, I see you’ve returned,” said I, “so something happened there too, relating to the box idea.” “Well,” added another boy, “sometimes things larger than you happen, you are cross because it is out of your influence, so walking out of the box is managing to accept.” I asked Ilan to take over while I was writing. The accumulation of ideas on the board, this tiny legitimizing act that accepted everything they said, invited a blessed rain of ideas. They were shooting faster and faster, being honest, creative, funny and not afraid.
One of them came up with the idea, “sometimes things get so bad that you know that the only way to break out of being boxed is through war.”
Now, I don’t know who will be reading these words. We Israelis know that being in war most of the time does not keep us favorable in the eyes of most of the world. Many see us as militants. That is not where that boy’s idea came from at all. It did come from existing in this place and knowing that sometimes, whether you like it or not, war is inevitable. I said to them, “you know, his idea seems difficult but it is not the first time someone noticed it. I want to tell you a story.” I told them “the bird that fought war” and if you have never heard about this story, find it. They listened closely. There is not much to say after such a powerful story.
The room was ready for ground rules. Rule number one: anyone is allowed to say anything. Rule two: in order to support rule one, whatever is said during the box sessions will never be held against the person who said it. Everybody had to agree, including Ilan and myself. And it was agreed.
So now we had a board full of ideas, but I wanted a theme. Why? Because the ideas on the board were the off springs of known situations, fragmented real-life narratives. A theme would re-start their imaginations and might elicit new stories. So I asked them if they can see connections and marked the ones they noticed with arrows. Eventually we could all see a clear “hub”. I asked if they could name it and one of the girls came up with the brilliant idea “helplessness and the ability to take a decision”.
The board was wiped clean; I placed the theme in the middle and asked for new ideas. A story about helplessness and the ability to take a decision can be a story about… and again, I wrote down their ideas. Now it was time to show them how stories are created. I told a folktale and then wrote down “time & place, characters, objects/artifacts, idea” and asked them to tell me where in the story they recognized those four. That was relatively easy and we got to the understanding of what makes the story’s hero too.
I told them my request for our next meeting – take one of the ideas from the board, imagine a story that could resonate it and give me the place, characters, object… I could not finish the sentence because they were going, “but I can’t” “but I don’t” “but I have no ideas” “no time”…. Ilan, that until this moment was thrilled by their participation and ideas walked in, “this is enough. We are sitting here together for an hour, you are all doing a brilliant job and suddenly a crash… we promised to help, so we will.” They stopped and I asked how they would like to receive our help. One of the boys thought it would be good to receive a guiding document. Something that will guide them through the process and this too was agreed.
Now we knew that we found the way to engage them and at the same time could smell the story pattern – two more challenges to go until we reach the dramatic peak…