"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Dilip Mukerjea has deliberately crafted this 2000 word or so document to test the reading speed of participants in a recent presentation event with parents:

[I have taken the liberty of breaking it into more smaller paragraphs for easier reading online!]

The world is made not from atoms and molecules, but from stories. The art of story is the dominant cultural force in the world; and the art of film is the dominant medium of this grand enterprise. Story serves as metaphor for life.

Teaching and learning, via the art of story, enables us to seek, discover, and propagate elements of truth, and anchor our lives in something larger than ourselves.

Traditionally, humankind has sought the answer to Aristotle’s quest for the meaning of life from the four wisdoms —philosophy, science, religion, art — extracting insights from each to bolt together a livable meaning.

Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.

Children have evolving brains that are tailor-made to respond to story: enchantment leads to enlightenment, and on to excellence! Education, in its truest sense, begets ecstasy!

No culture, especially that which concerns the upbringing of children, can evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates.

We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society. If not, as Yeats warned, “…the centre can not hold.”

Literary and story talent are distinctively different but related. Stories do not need to be written to be told. Stories can be expressed any way human beings can communicate. Theatre, prose, film, opera, mime, poetry, dance, are all magnificent forms of the story ritual, each with its own delights.

At different times in history, however, one of these steps to the fore.

In the 16th c. it was the theatre; in the 19th c. the novel; in the 20th c. the cinema, the grand concert of all arts. The most powerful, eloquent moments on screen require no verbal description to create them, no dialogue to act them. They are image, pure and silent. The material of literary talent is words; the material of story talent is life itself.

Every teacher, especially those who interact with children in their primary years, must acquire skills in speech, drama, and storytelling.

The secrets of successful teaching lie embedded in the art and science of story. Story is about principles, not rules. A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works…and has through all remembered time.”

Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form. Great teachers have these elements alive in their DNA.

Story is about eternal, universal forms, not formulas. An archetypal story creates settings and characters so rare that our eyes feast on every detail, while its telling illuminates conflicts so true to humankind that it journeys from culture to culture. Or from subject to subject when incorporated into school curriculums.

When talented people write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express.

When talented people write well, it is generally because they’re moved by a desire to touch the audience. These truths also apply to classroom presentations: Talented teachers elocute beautifully, in ways that inspire their students to bring forth their inborn eloquence.

Originality is the confluence of content and form — distinctive choices of subject plus a unique shaping of the telling.

Content (setting, character, ideas) and form (selection and arrangement of events) require, inspire, and mutually influence one another. With content in one hand and a mastery of form in the other, a writer sculpts story.

As you rework a story’s substance, the telling reshapes itself. As you play with a story’s shape, its intellectual and emotional spirit evolves.

We shape the telling to fit the substance, rework the substance to support the design. If you can’t play all the instruments in the orchestra of story, no matter what music may be in your imagination, you’re condemned to hum the same old tune.

Every teacher must acquire a repertoire of skills that blend, metaphorically and literally, the magic within music and dance, art and science, spirituality and humanity.

Storytelling is a work of art that reveals the art of work. Look upon yourself as an artist, and as a work in progress — a grand story able to dispense streams of tales, fables, anecdotes, and liturgies that light upon, and light up, all souls.

Your narratives and parables come to life when they exude meaning, beauty, enjoyment, and excitement…stemming from imagination, emotion, intelligence, and experience. You are then the creator of an atmosphere brimming with the kind of infectious enthusiasm and wonder found generally only in children.

Teaching, learning, and creating can never succeed in cut-and-dried forms; this is a barren approach. Life must be ennobling. When you are creative, you are the architect of something meaningful that would never have existed if you hadn’t been there.

You are the creative spirit behind the chord that haunts, the phrase that thrills, the movement that enchants, and the scene that lingers. Great stories help you radiate the richness of your spirit: they need not be elaborate, as long as they are emotionally, and aesthetically rich, and crafted to propagate joy.

In the business world, the fundamental stories within each organization begin with their vision and mission statements. Yet numerous people get mixed up between these two tenets of business behaviour.

A simple explanation: Christ had a vision and sent out a multitude of missionaries; he didn’t have a mission and send out a dispersion of visionaries! Visions and missions have different designs and directions, and their stories emanate differing aesthetics.

The four biblical modes of worship are present in healthy churches: liturgy, reading and exposition of the Bible, small group worship, and charismatic praise.

Story lies embedded in all these forms. The path of the future lies in incorporating fresh narratives that portray methods of viewing God in a way that can bridge the gap between Christian myth, and today's evolving consciousnesses.

In doing so, we shall be doing no more than did others in their time, drawing on the cultural milieu in which they lived, but with a language and spirit relevant to life today.

Stories must evoke passion and compassion, love and loyalty, courage and conviction, hope and spirit, adventure and achievement, using the ‘old’ to create something new, via leaps of imagination.

Children are far superior to adults at translating imagination into creativity: their hearts are not distorted by fears that reprimand them about their work not being good enough for display.

They aren’t afraid of their own imagination! Their minds are bristling with artistic tension, alive with swashbuckling intelligence in being able to connect and interconnect disparate pieces of information to bring forth an original work of art.

The word intelligence is born from the words in Latin for “between” and “reading.”

Thus, intelligence is the ability to read between the lines; and coupled with imagination, beyond the lines! Great teachers are not preachers; they are ‘reachers’ ~ they reach out and touch souls; their stories glisten with genius.

All brilliance incorporates a balance between gift and grit: it comes alive when we are able to see possibilities, anticipate feelings, recognize connections, and accumulate insights. These phenomena can be beautifully expressed via storytelling, song, and dance… the essence of play, where play power trumps power play!

Imagine teachers being the troubadours, balladeers, and minstrels of the intellect! Classrooms will be awash in animated artistry.

Great storytelling plants impulses in people, infusing them with a personal urgency to express something original, beautiful, meaningful. Great teachers distinguish between the mundane and the musical. They are able to express emotions that might otherwise stay unconscious.

Epiphanies ensue when we are deeply immersed and simmering in our creations. Teachers that instruct to inspire such ‘emergences’, succeed in transforming passive pupils into active actors; this is where teaching, learning, and creating come together with firecrackling finesse — a mutually reinforcing energy exchange.

Learning must move from static to fluid, separated to connected, discrete to continuous, passive to passionate. And it must exude beauty that is not just pleasant but arrestingly so. Beauty simultaneously quickens the pulse and quells the mind.

Real beauty, as in art such as the Venus de Milo, is both stimulating and restful. Great stories evoke the same sensation, an oxymoronic duality of calming stimulation that makes beauty so memorable.

It’s the duality that delivers the excitement, and makes the event unforgettable. And enjoyment emerges from finding what’s fresh in what’s familiar. Familiar freshness, another welcome oxymoron that is essential to creative content, and contentment.

For meaning to emerge, our communication must establish a bridge between the personal and the universal. This is why parables are peerless, priceless, and precious. Our stories should stimulate us to consider what gives our lives meaning.

To do so, we must think in both the present and the future tenses: “What have I created? What will I leave behind?

The actor-comedian Billy Crystal relates a lesson he learned early in his career. After a performance, he came off stage believing he’d done a great job. But a mentor cautioned him, “You didn’t leave behind something.”

Crystal realized that to be successful on stage (and that could extend to life, the ultimate stage) you must leave something of your self for the audience, something that goes beyond you the performer, and bequeaths what you are, who you are, what you represent, why you are peerless, priceless, and precious.

Great teaching calls upon individual stories to convey universal themes. Life has no meaning; we give it meaning. Similarly, stories feed the universal need… for meaning.

The best way to reach into people is to share something personally meaningful; we do this when we’re in the service of a purpose that is larger than ourselves.

Consider three different types of stonemasons: One says he’s cutting stone, another claims he’s erecting a wall. The third states he’s crafting a cathedral! He is the one who has seen the connection between the art of work and a work of art….and is doing something about it. He is transporting himself from creative and imaginative exertions to produce beautiful and meaningful outcomes… for the greater good of humankind.

Edward Morgan Forster, (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970), was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist.

Forster's humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howard’s End: "Only connect". Forster states: "The king died and then the queen died" is a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. Succinct, suspenseful, superb.

In his book of lectures, Aspects of the Novel, central to his chapter on ‘story’ he states: “We are all like Scheherazade’s husband, in that we want to know what happens next. That is universal and that is why the backbone of a novel has to be a story.”

Similarly, the backbone of good communication, teaching, and learning, has to be story.

Forster continues: “And now the story can be defined. It is a narrative of events arranged in their rime sequence — dinner coming after breakfast, Tuesday after Monday, decay after death, and so on. Qua story, it can only have one merit: that of making the audience wanting to know what happens next.

And conversely it can have only one fault: that of making the audience not wanting to know what happens next. These are the only two criticisms that can be made on the story that is a story. It is the lowest and simplest of literary organisms. Yet it is the highest factor common to all the very complicated organisms known as novels.”

And it is the highest factor common to the needs and demands of teaching, learning, and communicating.

All creative expression is created ad maiorem gloriam dei, toward God’s greater glory. Tell your tale, sing your song, pen your poem, whatever you do: tell your story!

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