The management and expression of and response to emotions impact all aspects of both intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship. The nurturing and modeling of effective emotional and behavioral responses can be shared through storytelling. As storytelling educators, we also become cheerleaders whose words and actions can make all the difference in the world:
In an old Chinese folktale, a group of young frogs was making their way through the woods, when two of the small creatures fell into a wet and muddy hole in the ground. As they tried to leap and flailed about in the mud, both unfortunate frogs croaked for help. The hole was deep, its sides soft and slippery, and when the other frogs saw this, they croaked to the two unfortunate ones in the hole, “Give up! You can’t get out! You’re gonna die!”
The two unfortunate frogs tried to jump out of that hole. They grew desperate for assistance and thrashed and jumped about even more. But the other frogs kept telling them to stop trying, to give up, to die.
And one of them did.
The other frog waved and smiled to his companions standing safely above him. He continued to jump as hard and as high as he could. And as the other frogs yelled and gestured for him to stop trying, that frog jumped high, high, high, up and out of the hole in the ground.
As the now-fortunate frog laughed with glee, the other frogs gathered around him and asked, “Why didn’t you stop trying? Didn’t you hear us?” The frog said, “What?” The other frogs yelled, “Didn’t you hear us telling you that you were going to die?” The frog said, “Ah, I couldn’t hear you. I saw you waving your arms, so I waved mine even harder until I got myself loose from the mud. I saw you yelling. I thought you were cheering for me, so I tried harder.
“If I’d known that you thought I couldn’t change my plight, that I couldn’t make my way up by myself, if I’d known that you had all given up on me, I might have given up on myself, and died.”*
*Lyn Ford’s adaptation of an old Chinese folktale attributed to one Hsien-Sheng Liang. A similar fable, about two frogs who fall into a bucket of milk, can be found among the moral tales of Aesop; in that retelling, one frog dies, while the other continues to move, hop, and hope. She manages to churn the milk into butter, stands on the butter, and hops out of the bucket to safety.
Reflective Essay by Lyn Ford
The story and information I’ve shared became my Opening for “Chapter Two: Storytelling Strategies for Children with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities”, in the book Storytelling Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Children with Special Needs, on which I collaborated with co-editor, friend, and fellow storyteller/teaching artist Sherry Norfolk. The book was published by ABC-CLIO, LLC for 2018, but the story was something I had shared from both its Chinese and Aesopic variants for many years. I especially liked the Chinese version of the tale, in which the frog’s inability to hear others and his imagined support became assets that urged him on to the possibility of living.
For me, the story expressed the difficulties we sometimes encounter when the words of others do not support our efforts, negating what we attempt or denying us our own belief in ourselves and what we might do. Empathy can initiate the heartwork of carefully thinking before speaking, but there are times when folks just blurt out the first emotional response that connects to their tongue.
This was my experience when I began my storytelling “career”. My husband said, “Do it!” Our children said, “You can do it!” My stepdad chuckled and said, “Go for it!” My mother said, “You can’t do that. Give up your job for this?!? You won’t make any money.”
I had many cheerleaders and one very loud naysayer, but I chose to listen to and surround myself with those who knew that I had already recognized my path and started my first steps on it. I had already become my own cheerleader.
Sometimes it’s better if we just don’t hear folks so that we listen solely to the voice of Self and Heart.
Sometimes, as we identify and pursue our possibilities, we must take a leap of faith and keep jumping.
Lyn Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller. Lyn is also a nationally recognized raconteur and workshop presenter, a writer (The Promise of Peace: Wisdom, Work, and Wonder, co-edited with Sherry Norfolk, will be published in 2018), a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), and a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. Lyn has performed at storytelling and education conferences and storytelling festivals across the United States, including the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Utah, and the Talk Story Festival in Hawaii; in 2018, Lyn will travel to Australia and return to the Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival in Ireland. Lyn calls her stories “Home-Fried Tales” to honor her father, who was a terrible cook, and the best storyteller she ever heard.