As an educator, there is no better way to capture the attention of an audience than by sharing a story. No matter the age of the audience, from our youngest children in the ELCs through to our Primary School students and finally our High School students, a good story will always grab their attention. In fact, even us adults appreciate (and remember) a good story. Of course, the story should be an interesting one or have some interesting parts to it. It should be relevant to the audience and obviously relate to the ideas or issues being discussed and perhaps, most importantly, it needs to be presented in an engaging manner. Storytelling is a skill which, if mastered, can really make the difference when trying to sustain the attention of any audience.
The first book of the Torah, Bereishit (Genesis) from which we are currently reading, is made up of a series of stories. We began with the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and Avraham, continue with Avraham’s children and grandchildren and conclude with Ya’akov and Yosef. Whilst these stories are filled with important morals, values and ethics, there are hardly any laws that are contained within these stories. The majority of the mitzvot, both positive and negative, appear a little later in the books of Shmot, Vayikra and Bemidbar. Perhaps the reason the Torah begins with these stories, besides providing some important context as to who we are as a people and where we come from (which is vital), is to engage us and involve us so we become attentive to the instructions that follow. Instructions that guide us as to how we should live our lives.
Consumer culture values the new and disposable over the old and enduring. Those of us living with teenagers, or even primary school-aged students, will be very familiar with this concept as we are made aware of the latest and most up-to-date piece of technology which our children just can’t seem to live without. Despite the distractions of the latest apps and rapid-fire text messaging, there does seem to be an attraction towards strengthening our connection to our roots. In so doing, we become aware of the stories of our parents and grandparents in order to understand and even appreciate our unique link in our own family chain.
We are growing increasingly aware that it is emotionally healthy to know where we come from. There is a growing body of research proving that connections to our friends, family and community are essential for living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Included in this is the capacity to respond to life’s challenges with resilience.
In 2001, Dr Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University and his wife Sara, a specialist working with children with learning disabilities, developed some interesting theories. Dr Sara noted that among her students, those who knew a lot about their families, were able to cope better when faced with challenges. It was this that led her and her husband to develop a measure known as the DYK or Do You Know scale, a scale that asked children to respond to 18 questions. They were encouraged to discuss these questions with their parents and grandparents around the dinner table or at Sunday brunch. Their study concluded that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more effectively their families functioned. The DYK scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.
After September 11, Dr Duke and his wife reassessed the children of four dozen families and concluded that the children who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress. It seems that children who know that they belong to something bigger than themselves have the most self-confidence.
So what is this DYK scale and what questions were the children asked to respond to? Well, they might seem simple enough, but how many of your own children can answer these questions? How many of you can answer these questions about your own families? Sitting around the Shabbat table gives us the perfect opportunity to discuss the answers to these questions.
- Do you know how your parents met?
- Do you know where your mother/father grew up?
- Do you know where your grandparents grew up?
- Do you know where your grandparents met?
- Do you know how your grandparents met?
- Do you know where your parents were married?
- Do you know where you were born (the story of your birth)?
- Do you know the source of your name?
- Do you know where you were when your brothers/sisters were born?
- Do you know which members of your family you look like the most?
- Do you know anything about any illness or injuries your parents experienced when they were younger?
- Do you know some of the lessons your parents learned from either good or bad experiences growing up?
- Do you know anything about the type of schools your parents went to?
- Do you know about your family’s background?
- Do you know about any of the jobs your parents had?
- Do you know about any awards your parents received when they were young?
- Do you know the names of the schools your parents went to?
- Do you know about a relative whose face ‘froze’ when they pulled a funny face and the wind blew?
I encourage you to spend some time discussing the answers to these questions with your own families so that, as Dr Sara notes, “the act of retelling the story of your family will increase the odds that your family will continue to thrive for generations to come.”
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.