On Storytelling and Organizational Development

What is your organization's story? Can you tell a clear and compelling organizational story in a few short sentences?
Presenting an effective organizational story is critical for Public Relations and marketing; resource development and reaching new markets and investors. But a good organizational story also serves internal purposes; it brings people together around a bold vision, an inspiring statement of purpose; a clear theory of change and well thought out strategies, and most importantly: core values.
A good organizational story is one that grows with the organization; like every riveting plot, it twists and turns as the life of the organization unfold. As the organization gains wisdom, knowledge and experience, its story becomes richer and more complex.
A good story preserves the organizational history and memory; it facilitates learning from successes and failures (YES, failures are an integral part of every story) and enables us to share moments of great pride in our achievements.
Interested in learning more about how to develop a great story for your organization? Contact me at consult4good@gmail.com

 

Storytelling: The Art of Generosity

Storytelling: the art of generosity
Once upon a time, or indeed, many times, in a country far far away, stories were everything from the daily news show; the gossip column; the red alert and the way to share experience, knowledge and wisdom from one generation on to another. Near the fireside or in a small room where women gathered to do their needlework or some other tedious labor, the stories will emerge and come to life. Troubadours shared news from the big city; people shared updates on births, deaths and hungry wondering wolves and secrets and wise advice.
Storytelling was and still is the art of generously sharing useful knowledge in a way that lingered and resonated with folks; because stories help us remember. Even in our era of incessant flow of info; a good story stays with us and reminds us – time and time again – how it made us feel and what it helped us know.
We can learn how to preserve and share knowledge through stories. Contact me to find out more: Consult4good@gmail.com

The Naked King

The Naked King*

Would I do it all over again? I would like to say yes, of course! But when I think of the price I paid, that my family paid, I have to say, I do not know. If I knew then what the future held for my family, and me, perhaps I would have kept silent like everybody else did.

Those were my five minutes of claim to fame. And why? For screaming at the top of my lungs that which no one else dared to say, because they were afraid everyone will think they were stupid. Yoy will not believe what fear does to people. I remember it like it was yesterday; I was sitting on my father's shoulders to see our king showing off his new clothes. Surrounded by horses and trumpets, he walked, his head upright, and waved majestically at the crowd, with only his throne on his head, and his underwear. I remember my father's shoulders shivering under my weight. Now I know that he was swallowing his laughter; trying hard not to giggle. And everyone kept waving their flags and calling "Hail King!" as if nothing unusual or out of the ordinary was going on; as if our king, a chubby little man, was NOT walking the main street in his underwear.

So I sat there, on my father's shivering shoulders, and I just could not understand why none of the grownups around us – including my own father – said nothing; is it possible that they did not see what I saw? Finally, I could not hold it in anymore and I yelled, "The king is naked! And suddenly there was a terrible silence, and the band stopped playing, and everyone looked at me with tremendous relief and great horror; relief, because they realized they were not stupid for not seeing the king's new clothes; and horror, because they knew what will ensue.

I was only five years old at the time, so they could not really do anything to me, but the Crown charged my father with for high treason, libel and defamation. This broke him completely; it broke all of us. He spent a fortune on legal defense fees, and eventually they settled out of court. My father pleaded guilty for failing to educate me and instill the fear of King in me. This whole story destroyed our family. My father went bankrupt, and he and my mother fought ceaselessly; he blamed her for spoiling ne rotten, and she claimed that I inherited all my bad habits from him, including his big mouth. Truth is, they both blamed me; for seeing and speaking truth to power.

So all I had left were my five minutes of fame for that brief moment when I released everyone from the big lie and for the terrible fear of being stupid. However, when they saw when happened to my father, they went being to being mute and afraid. Truth is, I do not blame them.

They did blame me, though, because everything went from bad to worse afterwards. The story tells us that the king was thrown from the throne, and that the lying, thieving tailors fled the city. But it wasn't like that. The king fired a minister or two and waged war on the neighboring city, and everyone forgot all about him being naked, because he was really good at waging wars. And at times of war everyone keep silent, because wars are really scary.

So you are asking me if I would have done it again. Well, I guess I did inherit my father's big mouth, but yes, I would have yelled that the king is naked; but I would make sure that I was not alone. I would have made everyone yell at the top of their lungs together; because a king can terrorize one kid and his family, but not a whole city.

*Dedicated with love to the boy who yelled, "The King is Naked"!

המלך עירום

Illustration by: Daniel Gouri De Lima

Growing up, I was like that boy in Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Emperor's New Clothes". I was honest, straightforward, and said things as they were, through the eyes of a child. Over the years, I learned that sometimes there is a price to be paid for being honest. Thing is, I am bad liar. I think I became an artist of words and stories so that I could speak my mind in a way that would make people listen. Because the art of storytelling is about making people listen, and share, and think and feel, and shake the dust off the shelves of their hearts.

The Power of Stories

The power of stories and storytelling

Stories are a powerful thing. Stories evoke strong emotional reactions: fascination, enchantment, laughter, fear, indignation. Stories have power over us because they are made of the raw materials of our lives as human beings: love, hate, passion, conflict, competition, adventures, cruelty and kindness, overcoming obstacles and challenges, the victory of the mind and soul over matter and coercion, resourcefulness and wisdom, stupidity and innocence, faith, and more. Stories can helps us grapple with the darker corners of our being and celebrate the greatness of our human spirit.

Stories can remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go. Consider for example the Odyssey, possibly the most famous tale of personal journey. After years and years of wondering and endless obstacles, adventures and temptations, Odysseus is finally able to find his way home after telling his story to others and to himself. Stories help us preserve our past, so that we may shape our own future.

Stories are not merely about facts, but are not the opposite of facts, either. Rather, they are an effective way of conveying information, in a more dramatic, picturesque, concise and inspiring manner. In that sense, stories can be a powerful tool in an organization's social marketing efforts.

A story well-told can unleash the power of other stories: it can help us tell owr own stories and elicit stories from others. Individual stories can then be woven together to tell a collective one: a community's, an organizations, a people.

To read more about the power of stories click here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxoYW11dGFsZ291cmljb25zdWx0NGdvb2R8Z3g6N2E3MDU3MmUzZmM3YzhhYg

If you want to learn more on how storytelling can benefit your group, your community, your organization, please wonder the pages of this blog, and then contact me at: consult4good@gmail.com or call: 972-52-5601859

My People

The plane finally landed at Oakland Airport. Only a short trip from there to the home of Akaya Windwood, the President of Rockwood Leadership Institute. I traveled all the way to California to participate in a Rockwood Art of Leadership Seminar, as part of a process of exploring the idea to bring the program to Israel. .
I have never met Akaya before. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and exchanged e-mails, and she invited me to stay with her over the weekend, before the seminar. The taxi drove up a peaceful street, and pulled over just as Akaya came out of the house to greet me, a tall, beautiful woman. I was so happy to finally meet her, and we embraced as if we were long time friends. I felt like I was home away from home.
The Art of Leadership seminar started on Monday afternoon. I was the oldest participant in the room, and the only one from Israel. It was March 2009. America was in love with its new black President, while in Israel; Benjamin Netanyahu was putting together another coalition. On that first evening, we stood in a circle, 24 people from different places, races, religions and genders, and with endless stories to share. Our two amazing trainers, Helen Kim and Toby Herzlich, asked us to say: who are my people?
– My people are my family…
– My people are my family and friends…
– My people are my friends and colleagues who are working to end racism and prejudice…
– My people are all those fighting for justice and equality…
The seminar was a truly transformative experience. I experienced a whole spectrum of emotions; I felt the pain of revelation, I shed some tears, and was inspired, and curious; I learned a great deal about my own leadership, my privilege, my responsibility. I discovered myself through the eyes of people I have just met, but I had to trust them to share their wisdom with me, and let me share mine with them. For four intense days they were “My People”, as we all shared in an experience of learning and discovery. It’s been five years since then, and what I learned there about myself, about leadership and about social change is still alive within me, like a potent “suspended release” medicine, that runs through my veins, through my system of values and beliefs.
And the learning and revelation continued, in the four years in which I was the program Director for the Rockwood Art of Collaborative Leadership for Social Change in Israel, thanks to the generous support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Social Justice Fund. I met amazing people, our participants; so dedicated and passionate about their work, even when it gets so frustrating, challenging and downright unthankful. I met people who represent such a rich diversity of ethnic, national, gender, cultural and political identities. Each and every single one of them holds a special place in my heart. Our alumni in Israel, along with many other remarkable people I met during my 25 years in working for social change, are “My People”. I wish I could name each and every one of them, but the list will so long. My people are the feminist activists and professionals who never take a break to breath; my people are the human rights and peace people; the environmentalists, and those working to keep Judaism pluralistic and inclusive, and those fighting against racism and injustice, and all of those who insist to end the occupation. My people are kind. They are my kind of people.
And each and every one of them has a voice, loud and clear, complex and fascinating; a voice that holds a richness of identities, of stories, of affiliations. My people give me hope, despite the ill winds that keep blowing in our country, despite legislation initiatives that threaten to deepen the rifts between Jews and Palestinians. They give me hope, because I know that there are people, amazing people, who work to bring people together, to create circles of conversations, to create spaces for shared living.
It gives me great pleasure to host my people on my blog. And this time, I invite you to gather around an imagined fire place, or an imagined town hall, and listen to two of our Rockwood graduates in Israel: Shahad Abu-Hamad, a Palestinian pre-school teacher, a special education fairy godmother, and Prof. Daphna Golan. A Jewish scholar and educator, a magician in her own way, and the founder of the Academy-Community Partnership.

storyteller2The Storyteller, Illustration by Daniel Gouri de Lima

Power Failure/Shahad Abu-Hamad

Power failure
Darkness
Waiting for the light
Power failure
Painful memories
And people’s stories

System overload
Power failure
Pouring rain
Thunders roaring
The voices of whole nations
System overload
Power failure
Paralyzing thunders
And the rain washes away painful memories
Feeds a new scent of hope
A scent of love

Power failure
Darkness
Hot and cold
Will you make up your mind already…
Don’t say it’s impossible
We are out of words
Silence
Power failure.

This powerful poem was written at the end of a whirlwind week of the Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day that were followed by a rain storm, in early May.

Learning with students, Acting for Change: a TED talk by Prof. Daphna Golan, Founding Director, Academy-Community Partnership

http://youtu.be/uvEwl2PHDgE

Oedipus Shmedipus

Oedipus Shmedipus

Mix the flour and butter until they form a coarse mill…

She had started and stopped writing about them several times, going off to bake scones.

Fold in the chopped cranberries, pour one cup of heavy cream…

The dough is a little sticky now, and she finds joy in kneading it; knowing how to be patient, not to add too much flour. Soon she will flatten it to a big circle, and chip away little round shapes with curly edges.

She had begun writing about them several times, and stopped in the midst. It is much simpler to bake scones. Soon she will slide them into the oven, for the soft smells of foreign pastries to spread across and fill the air.

Bake the scones until lightly brown, careful not to overdo it. That's it. There are no more excuses left for her now.

So many times she began writing about them, of Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and every time she stopped. For who is she, this softening woman, to write of these men whose works shape our lives to this very day in a preordained, never ending cycle of violence.

It was in Tu B'shvat (the Jewish celebration of trees) that she was playing with the idea of writing in a humorous spirit about how she is going to cling to high trees… and write about Oedipus and Freud. She ended up baking scones with dried fruits, because that also something to do with Tu B'shvat.

And the scones are ready, sprinkled with powdered sugar and their stories, in all their founding and shaping glory, are still there. You can talk and knead for as long as you like, but no new knowledge will be born here, until you kill someone.

Sophocles wrote the Tragedy of Oedipus nearly 2450 years ago; in which the titular prince was born prophesized to commit Patricide, wed his mother and bring pestilence, woe and sorrows to his people. He wrote a tragedy about blindness and predetermined rivalry. He probably did not foresee a Jewish Austrian Psychiatrist building an entire theory based upon it, about parent/child relationships, human evolution and the society we live in, 2400 years into the future. And then along came Harold Bloom – Another important Jewish fellow – and wrote about the "Anxiety of Influence" and how new knowledge is formed, how creation is born, in the world we live in.

She's meant to write a chapter about this subject in her ever elusive, prolonged Masters Thesis. Instead she bakes scones and writes ambiguous stories. They trouble her mind far too long now, these Men with their Oedipus and repression. Their disinheritance and sublimation of Patricide and all this to create something, that for one passing moment, you feel like maybe had never been written before.

There's something so real about the sticky feel of this dough. You have to be gentle with it, so it won't break, so the butter won't dissolve too much. So the scones will come out equally soft and delicate. There's a recipe, and as long as you follow it everything will be just fine. You can decide to be bold and add pecans. It is better to quell you rebellious streak when it comes to foreign pastry recipes and to heed the instructions. This is not the time to be creative or break new grounds. Save your insurgence for other things.

Coward. You're a coward, she reproaches herself as she removes the broken egg shells from the sink to the trash can. What the hell are you so afraid of? I don't know. Maybe that they won't understand. Think it's rubbish. Fearful that she doesn't have that flare in her, to write until she collapses, to leap and fly. Freud would have had a field day with her.

But the story these men tell bothers her. It is so powerful that for nearly 2500 years no one told another one, as powerful and formative. Every birth, every creation calls for a battle, a disownment, a demonization of what came before it. "This old world to it's foundations we will crumble", because there's no point in anything else.

She misses her grandmother. The tempestuous, and sometimes lost. The one who wrote that art and motherhood share the ability to give unconditionally. Even after there's none but a crumb of the scones she made, her grandmother's words keep striding with her.

She doesn't know how to write without the recipes yet. The stories help her. Guide her. In them she finds wisdom, and comfort.

And there are the stories that haunt her. Like the one about Oedipus being told for 2500 years, on top of which Freud constructed entire theories of penis envy and the drive that turns into sublimation to slay the "Father Figure" and become the Alpha Male. To take what you want and repress the fact that someone was here before you, and that he might have been more eloquent in expressing that which you wish to say. These stories concern her because they clear room in the pages of history for men who took those theories to the extreme. One of which passed away around these very parts just a few weeks ago (former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). He created and destroyed, built and mostly demolished again. And with his passing, from every corner of the political spectrum people rose to proclaim that many a day shall pass before we witness a leader such as this in our lands. A true Alpha Male.

But she digresses again. Quick to write a parable, to draw the lines between the dots she scattered on the page. She must have "Misunderstanding Anxiety", it's hard for her to be incomprehensible sometimes, and even more to abandon these wanderings among her private memories and associations.

The end is nigh and she decides to emerge from behind the character she's been hiding in. She's just like her anyway. In the language of stories she will say that writing helped her  appear out of this character, because sometimes it's a place to hide and at other a place to be exposed.

This week a dear friend told me that my insistence on interlocking my stories with social change is a kind of burden. That my attempts at connecting the stories with the ever so real world of working for social change  is holding me back from soaring. She's correct, of course. The truth shall set you free, but it's also a bitch. And maybe I do shackle myself to this encumbering anvil, of saying something about social justice, because I am afraid – or worse, can't – Spread my wings and fly. Maybe.

But that is only one part of the story. The other is that I am tenacious. I believe that this connection between stories and social change, is alive and vibrant. It needs to exist.

I started with Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and the story they tell about how the world behaves and how new knowledge, life and creation are born. These tales bother me because I realize I am also bound to them. I doubt myself when I think that there are other ways to be and create in the world, even though it has already been said before my time.

And I'm restraining myself now. Holding back from weaving these threads that are strewn about the page. If I could paint, maybe I would create something with these strands in front of me. But as always, I will let Daniel draw the story of this tale. And he will do something a little different of his own, that will entwine with my own, which is already knotted with the living and the dead. And maybe that is enough of a statement about the processes of creation.

 001

 Illustration and English translation: Daniel Gouri de Lima

Dripping

On Dripping

This blog post was inspired by a great storyteller/blogger: http://astorytellerinistanbul.blogspot.de/

 I wish to thank her for bringing the story about the cracked pot to life in such a relevant and resonant way. I also want to thank John Rogers for sharing the blog post.

The story of the cracked pot

Once upon a time there was a water bearer, who had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

Why?" asked the bearer. What are you ashamed of?

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return home, house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers, grass and vegetables  along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, the green grass and the ripe, delicious looking vegetables, and this cheered it some.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers, grass and vegetables only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?

“That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower and vegetable seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them.

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers and delicious, nutritious vegetables to share them with my family and neighbors and make them very happy… "

cracked pot 001

Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

I'll be 51 in two weeks. I, too, am a cracked pot. I've earned my cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work, by taking the long road, often the road untaken, with very little shortcuts and magic solutions. I earned them with every time my heart broke and healed, with my body transformed by the years and bearing my children, with the silly things and bitter mistakes that I made. I, too, like the cracked pot, often wonder if I'm doing my job in the most effective and efficient manner; I too "drip" and only get some of the tasks done by the end of the day, and I have reminders on my google calendar to remind me of my tasks, because I forget…

But the story of the cracked pot invites us to think of this dripping not as a waste of time and resources. In this story, the water dripping from the cracked pot, in cooperation with the seeds and the soil, brings flowers and vegetables into life; creating nourishment and beauty. Yes, I, too, am dripping. When I postpone doing the laundry or writing that report, do tell my daughter a bed time story and cuddle next to her until she falls asleep; when I shut down the computer and decide not to read my e-mails late at night, so I could spend a few moments of grace with my partner, or watch a film with my son. I am dripping when I spent a few minutes at the beginning of each conference call to chat with my colleagues and ask them how they're doing; or when I say to myself this writing block is not going anywhere, and I may as well take a long walk to clear my head; or put the phone on silent and make cranberry scones.

I share this story here because it is simple and beautiful; there's a lot we can learn from it, as we strive to bring about social change. This story is an invitation to ponder about "dripping" in the context of working for social change as an investment in processes that will eventually yield sustainable impact; dripping in the sense of investing in deconstructing and redefining limits, power-relations, strategies; dripping in the sense of drawing wisdom from different types of knowledge.

Working for social and political change is a goal, but it is also a way of life, a way if being in the world; just as a story about content as much as it is about form. So, with your permission, let me linger a bit longer on this metaphor of dripping as we go along. Let me suggest that dripping, in the context of working for social change is:

To invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with our partners;

To remember that when we make the shared space unsafe for the other, we make the shared space unsafe for everyone

To recognize that silencing, intimidation, patronizing, belittling, coercion, are the "master's tools"

To care for ourselves and for others. Because as Audre Lorde said: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

To take a step back and make space for someone else, and stepping forward when necessary

To listen to stories, to share stories

To appreciate others and give credit

To explore ways to dismantle the paralyzing dichotomy of victim-aggressor

And, to remember that we are all cracked pots. We've earned our cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work; by taking the long road, with very few short cuts and no magic solutions.

Never Let Them See You Sweat: Really?

Prologue

Earlier this week we lost Buja, our mixed breed ravishing dog, who has been with us for the last 17 years. She was a part of us, of our family, and we loved her dearly. As she got older, it became increasingly difficult and painful for her to walk, yet she continued to walk around the house, simply because she wanted to be near us. This blog post – and Daniel's illustration – are dedicated to her.

SWEAT

This blog post had a difficult birth. I had the thread of an idea, but I didn’t know where to take it. I needed some stories to help me make sense of it and some time to mull things over and process the raw material.

As happens from time to time, it started with a flash, a fragmented thought. A few weeks ago a sentence got stuck in my mind and refused to leave me in peace, demanding that I respond.

 Never Let Them See You Sweat

 This catch-phrase – a slogan from an advertisement for deodorant – came from nowhere and refused to budge until I gave it the time and reflection it deserves. Above all – until I worked out why it had popped up in front of me in the first place.

I embarked on a dialogue with this phrase.

 “To start with – why? Why should we never let people see us sweat? Everyone does it, don’t they? It’s just the body’s natural and healthy way of cooling itself and releasing toxins. So why should we keep it a secret? Why should we pretend that we don’t do that?”

“What do you want from me,” the sentence retorted. “I’m just a punch line in an advertisement. Maybe you need to work out why I’m bothering you so much.”

 The pest of a sentence was right, of course. It wasn't about him, but me. He came to bother me while I was preoccupied with thoughts about sweat. The sweat that comes from a real effort – a physical effort, a mental effort, the effort of thought. I was thinking about sweat that pours out in an attempt to contain and process the sadness and countless emotions aroused by various events and encounters that have shaken my soul, on the personal and the political levels.

 So as happens from time to time, writing became a process of deciphering. Sweat became a metaphor, a symbol representing something else. Maybe tears or sadness. In short – an effort of the heart. And in the end that is what was written: Sweat. Sadness. Effort.

Sweat

“You’ll feel a slight sense of pressure in your lower back.” If I remember rightly, that’s how Sheila Kitzinger, the high priestess of birth preparation books, described the pain of contractions 25 years ago. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself while crouching on all fours, a small elephant in a cat/dog Yoga position on the lawn outside the delivery room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. I tried to “breathe over the contraction, following Kitzinger's teachings.  “Pressure in your lower back” didn’t even begin to describe my feelings just before entering the delivery room: enormous excitement, fear, and a realization that something big was going on inside me and in my life.

“When breastfeeding, it’s important to consume a large quantity of liquids,” I read in the same book, after returning home with my treasure, my first son, in my arms. Why not just say that women who have just given birth sweat like racehorses?

The first visit to the mother and child clinic was a really special day. Daniel, the new stroller, and I made our way up the steep road to the clinic. Daniel, the stroller and I – together with flowing streams of sweat. By the time I got to the clinic I was soaking wet. Beads of sweat covered my eyes, smudging my carefully-applied makeup and filling my mouth with a salty taste.

My sense of excitement at this new first was muted by a sense of tremendous vulnerability before the wiry, efficient, and bone-dry nurse with her judgmental gaze. Maybe she wasn’t really judgmental and it was just me, with my new mother vulnerability, who felt that.

Sadness

 

“Tell me, do you have something against sadness?” the flight attendant asked me as we served out food and drinks on a plane full of passengers and not full enough of oxygen headed for New York. He added a hint of a smile to show that he was aware of his own charm. Even at a distance of 30 years, I must admit that this is one of the better pickup lines I’ve heard. A combination of the professional humor of flight attendants and a pretension to understand the complex soul of women who love tormented men…

 Sadness is a wonderful word – poetical, creating associations of a thread of sorrow, melancholy, soft grayness, malaise. The sweat of the soul that seeks to cool itself and rid itself of toxins.

 Never Let Them See You Sad

 

That’s an advertisement slogan they haven’t used yet. Anyway, no elixir  or medicine can really cure sadness. Like sweat, sadness is the body’s totally natural reaction to pain, injustice, and cruelty. Sadness is anger’s melancholy sister, the one that turns its energies inwards.

 I’d guess that almost every language in the world has a word for sadness. How many poems must have been written in all these languages about sadness? Thousands, if not more.

Anyway, it strikes me how rarely I use that word in the context of my work. That’s why they invented words such as fascinating, complex, moving, and challenging. As if sadness is something that doesn’t have its own place in the context of struggles for social change.

Effort

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.” This is the terrible punishment God imposes on Adam and Eve as they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. They won’t enjoy the fruit-laden trees any more. Effort – that’s the punishment for their lust for knowledge. Their curiosity. Their subversion. Their disobedience. Effort and sweat. If Adam and Eve had only been more obedient and less curious, we would all still be living in Eden without effort and without sweat. And without knowledge.

It took me years to accept effort lovingly – not to be afraid or ashamed of it. Not to be angry with myself when things don’t work out. After all, nothing important ever comes easily. Letting go never comes easily. Neither does love, learning, or acceptance – and certainly not change.

Even so, in the hundreds of grant proposals I’ve written and read over the years, I’ve never seen anyone write: “Inequality (or oppression, racism, violence…) is a serious social problem that makes us very sad. Sometimes this sadness is so profound that for a moment it challenges our belief in our ability to change things. It demands that we invest almost superhuman efforts, to sweat, to neglect our loved ones, and to argue with those closest to us. But we care too much, and we would never thinking of abandoning the struggle. So we will continue to make an effort, to sweat, and to get angry – so that we can change things. We’ll be delighted if you see fit to support  us…”

 buza2

Effort: in memory of a beloved dog. Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

In a soft, circular movement

 The twilight hours are the best time for sweet sadness. Late on Friday afternoon, Jerusalem is so quiet. I can hear Dana, our splendid black Labrador, biting her own feet energetically. Outside the last birds are singing.

All around me is quiet now and I can listen to the sadness. A sadness that is sometimes the product of the gap between what we manage to do and what’s still left to be done. A sadness born of longing, of something stolen that cannot be regained. A personal sadness and a political sadness at the way of the world.

I began writing in sadness at a phrase from an advertisement, and I end in a soft, circular movement. I gather in my pain, sorrow, sweat, and effort together with those of the people who touch my heart during the encounters this work sparks. Yes: I choose to end this process of writing with a soft, circular movement. Because compassion is a political act toward ourselves and toward others. It is born of the sad realization that so much needs to be repaired here. There is no reason for us to waste our energy trying to pretend that we aren’t sweating or that we aren’t in pain.

Three short stories: redirecting the gaze

 I haven’t written for a while. I’d like to tell you that I haven’t found time or space, or that I was letting my ideas mature at their own pace. But the truth is that my inner critic paid me a visit and overstayed her welcome. She sat on my shoulder and mocked me like the evil angel in cartoons. And she wouldn’t stop talking. But in the rare moments when she fell silent, my words began to coalesce to form thoughts and sentences.

 When I can’t write I turn to all kinds of things. First of all, I talk to myself. I also bake, and I found myself launching into a detailed study of Queen Victoria’s baked goods (scones, to be specific). I walk for hours, attempting to escape my inner critic and hoping I’ll lose her as I turn a corner.

The gaze. I’ve been thinking a lot about gazes and glances lately. I’ve probably spent too much time reading critical theories: Edward Said, Gilbert and Gubar with their madwoman in the attic, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Yehuda Shenhav, Hannan Hever, Louise Bethlehem – and Foucault for dessert. Reading so much literary criticism leaves you helpless in front of the text, forcing you to dive in and trust the text, and trust too in your own ability to wrap it around your finger, knead and sense it, and declare that you’re beginning to understand. So I’ve been preoccupied by the definitive, suffocating, restrictive power of the gaze, and by the strength that comes when we deflect our glance to one side. I’m busy writing stories around this theme.

 The Queen and the Mirror

The queen looked at herself in the mirror, suddenly gripped by a sense of weariness with this daily ritual. Again asking who is the fairest of them all, and again hearing the answer that she already knew in her inner heart. She isn’t the fairest of them all – there are others fairer than her. There always were and there always will be. For some time she has been aware that the bored mirror was already turning its glance to others. Sometimes she asks herself why she doesn’t simply break the mirror and have done with it. But that’s not what she’s going to do today.

She missed her daughter Snow White. She understands why she had to move so far away from her and away from the cursed mirror that ruined their relationship with its irritating beauty contests and its incessant judgmentalism.

 She removed the heavy velvet cover from the mirror and looked at it, rather than at her image reflected in it. “Though fair ye be…” the mirror began to recite its familiar sentence. “I didn’t ask you,” the queen remarked as she continued to examine the mirror. The mirror was confused, uncertain as to how to react to this new information. Uncertain that it had anything to say other than repeating its well-worn phrases about who was the fairest and such like. The queen drew a determined finger along the decaying wooden frame. “You’re full of dust,” she declared indifferently. She continued to look at the mirror with the same piercing glance it had cast in her direction all these years. “I don’t like it,” the mirror said, like a five-year-old boy who has been chastised for some offense. “Really? You don’t like the way I’m looking at you? You feel exposed, vulnerable, somehow diminished?” The queen inquired in a tone of artificial empathy. The mirror was really scared now. It knew how powerful the queen was. As hard as it tried to catch her in its gaze, she always stayed strong. She could move mountains if she wanted to. But over the years he had always managed to deflect her own gaze and her powers away from himself. He had managed to convince her that Snow White was the enemy. He knew how to flatter her and offend her, and how to send her away to take out her rage on Snow White. But Snow White was far away now. Only the two of them were left, and she wasn’t afraid of him anymore. His comments didn’t bother her. And her gaze was fierce and piercing.

 Jack. Jack and the Beanstalk for you

Eventually Mom stopped being mad at me, after she realized that in return for our only cow I had gained the whole kingdom of the evil giant. Not bad for Jack. Dumb Jack, they used to call me. Because I was a bit different, like the people they talk about at school on special days when they teach us about the proper attitude toward “the other.” Those were the only days when I didn’t get beaten up in recess. At first I believed everyone when they called me dumb, because they really did seem different from me, and they were in the majority. But no-one dares to call me Dumb Jack anymore because I beat the evil giant. Everyone believes that I expelled him for ever after climbing the magic beanstalk up to the clouds, fighting and tricking him and winning all his treasure. Now everyone wants to be friends with Dumb Jack.

It’s true – for a long time I believed them. If people tell you something enough times, eventually you begin to believe it. All the time I heard them saying “he’s got ants in his pants” and wondering whether “a different framework might be better suited to him.”

But like I said, everyone wants to be friends with dumb Jack now. Because if I was so successful and managed to get to rich and powerful, then they must have been wrong about me and I’m actually a big success story. And all this thanks to the giant.

 When I got up there to his palace in the clouds, he gave me a long, hard look.

“Who are you?”

“Jack, Mister Giant. Dumb Jack.”

“Dumb? You certainly can’t be dumb if you’ve made it all the way up here. I’ve been waiting for years for someone to have enough sense to take the dry beans, plant them, wait for them to grow and then climb up here. You’re the first person who had what it takes to do that.”

“What it takes?”

“Come on, do I really have to spell it out for you like the moral at the end of a fairy tale? You had the imagination, the hope, the faith, the patience, the courage… In a nutshell – all the qualities of the hero in a story.”

 No-one had ever spoken to me like that before. No-one had ever looked at me in that way. I completely lost my fear. Moving forward, I sat next to him.

“So what happens now? Why was it so important for you that someone would come up here?”

“Because I want to quit. I’m tired of frightening everyone. I never imagined how much damage frightened people can do.”

“So why did you keep on frightening them?”

“Because it was a very powerful thing, it was hard for me to give it up…”

 So basically the giant and I had this long chat. It’s not like we became friends or anything, but the way he looked at me changed my life. For the first time someone was looking at me and didn't laugh or scold me when I looked back. Actually he seemed to need my glance, as if he hadn't seen himself for a long time.

 In the end he did good by me, that giant. He agreed that I could tell everyone that I fought him and won so that they’ll all think I’m a hero and they’ll realize that I’m not dumb. I think this giant was actually my good fairy, because as soon as he had finished his task he vanished.

 Since then, I get invited to all kinds of places to tell my story. Every time, in every school, I look around for those kids. The ones who get put next to the teacher so they don’t disrupt the class. The ones who seem to be dreaming instead of listening. The ones who hope that today, because it’s “Different Children’s Day,” they won’t get beaten up in recess. I look for their eyes.

 redirect2

Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

“The glances,” she says, “were what caused me the most pain”

“One day I went to visit her in that place where they put her. They said she was suffering from mental exhaustion, but I knew that she had lost her mind because of everything that had happened to her. Every day I used to walk in the cold and rain and snow. I tried to bring some little object with me that might make her eyes see me again. But nothing worked. The glances people cast at her were the worst. Knowing glances. Glances that burned wounds of shame in the skin. And she wasn’t there to tell me that neither I nor she had anything to be ashamed of, because she’d stopped looking. I guess it was just too painful.”

Every so often she looks up at me, checking that I am recording every word she says. Checking to see whether I look pitying or ashamed. Whether I am glancing at her or looking away, lest I be infected by any of the terrible pain she has carried alone for so many years.

“Their glances… I will never forgive them for their glances. Because they knew and they remained silent. Because they didn’t do anything when she cried out until she was broken. They went inside their homes and closed the windows and doors, and they kept on looking out from behind their closed windows as if what she has, or what I have, is infectious. As if looking at me like that means that they are okay. That they are protected.”

She curls up in her armchair in front of me, a small, childlike woman. She signals to me to stop writing and to come and sit next to her. I go toward her and she holds my hand firmly. Her own hand is withered, bony and small. “Promise me! Promise me that one day you will tell her story. Promise me that you will see that justice is done to her. Everyone must know that she wasn’t to blame for anything. It was the cruelty that broke her. Everyone’s cruelty – those who hurt her and those who abandoned her.”

She looks straight at me, searching in my eyes for what she has sought in vain in the glances of those people. I know she is looking for the rage in my eyes. For the pain, for the cry she cannot shout out herself. I know that she is looking for the tearful smile that will let her know how grateful I am for having her in my life.

Translated from Hebrew by Shaul Vardi