How Stories Teach Values

Recently I led a group of colleagues on a workshop/study tour ofBhutan, a high and tiny Himalayan kingdom north of Bangladesh and south of Tibet. While there, I was interested to discover that this is a country with an unofficial national story. The Four Faithful Friends is the country's most loved story, told to the young and repeated among the mature. It hangs as a painting in many homes and is depicted on the walls of temples, public buildings, medical clinics, and even banks. It was a mural above the headboard of the very first hotel bed in which I slept.

The story as I have told it in "The Four Faithful Friends" (Story 34) may not be the same as one you'd read in a book of Bhutanese folktales or hear told by a local. That is part of the fascination with the oral tradition of storytelling, in which the details of tales may vary depending on the teller, listener, context, and intent with which it is told—while still maintaining the essence and integrity of the message. Knowing this, and using this, will help contribute to your skills as a teller of healing stories.

"The Four Faithful Friends" tells of a pheasant, a rabbit, a monkey, and an elephant—four unlikely associates—who find a seed and combine their abilities to plant it, cultivate it, and, eventually, harvest the fruit. It is a tale that teaches the values of cooperation, using your abilities, helping others, and harvesting the fruits of your mutual efforts.

There are similar tales for communicating social values across many cultures. The aboriginal tale mentioned earlier of Wakala's stealing, expressing anger, and being selfish is one such value story. From your own cultural background it may be possible to recall the stories with which you were brought up. One for me that has a somewhat parallel message to the Bhutanese Four Faithful Friends was The Little Red Hen—but the means the two stories provide for getting there are almost polar opposites. The tale of the Little Red Hen tells you what will happen if you do not cooperate. Failure to lend a helping hand when the hen requested assistance meant her barnyard peers were punished by being denied the freshly baked bread. Conversely, the Bhutanese story ofthe Four Faithful Friends talks of the benefits that you will gain through the positive action of cooperation. It emphasizes the values that can be derived from mutually caring relationships, instead of the negative aspects of not caring for others.

Table 3.1 in Chapter 3 lists some examples of classic value stories, their authors, and the values they contain.

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