Once upon a time, there was a princess who dreamed of fighting inequality and injustice throughout her kingdom. She did not know how, only that she must. So, one day, she put on her armor, mounted her horse, and rode off into the sunset to begin her quest.
Stories. We grew up hearing them, reading them, and imagining ourselves living the adventures the words brought to life. Even as adults, we cuddle up next to fires, coffee mugs in hand, and shut out the world while we let our minds get wrapped up in the narratives jumping out of the pages. But the transformative power of stories far exceeds that of entertainment value and mere escapes from reality. Stories, in fact, are tools, weapons even, for the fight between right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust.
She rode day and night, searching feverishly for the answer; how could she possibly win this battle, what was the path to true equality and peace in her kingdom? As she continued on, she stumbled upon a sick fairy, who told her of her experiences, her pain, and her burdens. The princess tried to listen, but was so focused on her mission, that she carried on.
With so many problems to solve in society, how do we know where to start? What is the answer? A student asked me today if education alone is enough to create social change and goodness in the world. After all, Hitler was incredibly smart, and his logic supporting his ideology, which effectively led to mass genocide, was very convincing. So what was missing? The answer is empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s position; the ability to understand and to feel what others feel.
Again, the princess was stopped by someone suffering in the forest. A troll, heartbroken at the loss of a loved one, cried to her and expressed his pain. Again, the princess politely passed on, dedicated to completing her task.
One of the most powerful ways for unlocking empathy is story telling. Stories allow us to put ourselves in another situation, to imagine ourselves experiencing something different, and in doing so, they allow for the development of empathy and compassion. Compassion, in turns, fuels action.
Riding on still, the princess was stopped by an old woman in the middle of her path. Frustrated, she asked the woman step out of her way. “But child, you have yet to ask me my story.” The princess gasped, “Old women, I simply don’t have the time! I am on a quest to find the way to fight against all that is wrong in my kingdom.” The old woman smiled, cocking her head to the side as she gazed up at the princess. “Sweet child, don’t you know? You have the answer. The sick fairy with her stories of suffering, the troll with his tales of his pain, they offered you the weapons you need to fight for good in your kingdom.”The princess stared into the woman’s eyes in disbelief, confusion, and then realization. She understood. The answer was so simple, that she passed it by.
There’s so much unhappiness in the world, so much that is wrong and unfair. So much pain and injustice, that the solution often seems too hard to attain. We feel so overwhelmed by it all that we tend to turn a blind eye out of self-preservation. We just don’t know what to do. But the truth is simpler that realize. It is attainable, even manageable. We can read. We can story tell. The formula is basic, but incredible. Stories create awareness and understanding, which leads to empathy and compassion, and finally, action. Social change.
She turned around, sent her horse into a hard gallop, and returned to the troll and fairy. She collected their stories, listening with an open mind and kind heart. She continued on to others in her kingdom, gathering as many stories as she could, returning home armed and ready to fight for her people. Returning home to share the stories.
My fellow busy mamas, may we suggest that you read and share stories with each other. A book club is a wonderful way to engage in this quest together. Below is a list of suggestions we have put together for you. In addition to a mom book list, we have compiled suggestions for our children as well. Please include any recommendations for other reading material in the comments section. We are in this together, and we could not be more grateful to you for joining us. Perhaps, in the end, with enough of us fighting, we will create more and more happily ever afters for our children around the world.
Book Club List:
-My Life on the Road (Gloria Steinem)
-The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
-Odd Girl Out (Rachel Simmons)
-Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
-Infidel (Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
-Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
-I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
-Warriors Don’t Cry (Melba Pattillo Beals)
-The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
-Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Harriet Jacobs)
BOOK LIST FOR KIDS:
-Brave Girl (Michelle Markel)
-Nursery Rhymes for Social Good
-A is for Activist
-I Dissent (Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley)