Character Strengths, Storytelling, Well-being in education

A Character Strengths in Action Story for Friendship or kindness: One of my geese is missing

My version of the legend of St Werburga: One of my geese is missing 

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the children who played in the fields next to her cornfield. Werburga smiled when she saw them and when, one day, a little boy lost his favourite wooden horse in a clump of grass, Werburga noticed and helped him to look for it and stayed with him until it was found and his tears had dried up and he was smiling again. Werburga thought children were important and ought to be noticed

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the animals and birds who lived in and around her cornfield. Werburga smiled when she saw them and when, one day, a sparrow hurt its wing and couldn’t fly, Werburga noticed and picked it up and fed it until its wing was healed and it could fly away. Werburga thought sparrows were important and ought to be noticed.

Werburga was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburga said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. But when, one evening, she noticed a flock of geese trampling her corn with their great, webbed feet, as they settled down to sleep, she didn’t smile at all. Even saints have their limit and Werburga frowned, and called a neighbour and told him to tell the geese they could sleep in her barn instead.

Werburga never said very much. Mostly she looked and listened but people said she was a saint so when she did say something, people paid attention. And the neighbour did as she asked, though he thought the geese would ignore him and only hiss at him and honk at him and shake their great long snake like necks at him. And when the neighbour told the geese to follow him to Werburga’s barn, they did hiss at him and honk at him and shake their great long snake like necks at him, but they followed him all the same.

The next morning, Werburga went to the barn and opened the door. She looked and listened as the geese waddled out of the barn hissing and honking and shaking their great long snake like necks and then Werburga noticed something. She noticed that the geese were hissing more sadly than usual. She noticed that their honks were not as loud and fierce as they usually were. She noticed that they were shaking their great long snake like necks from side to side as if they were trying to tell her something. And then she noticed that one of the geese was missing.

She called her neighbour and asked him where the missing goose had gone. The neighbour hung his head in shame. He had thought no one would notice if he took one of the geese. He had thought no one would notice if he killed that goose and ate it for his supper. But the geese had noticed, and so had Werburga. Werburga looked and listened and noticed things.

Werburga told her neighbour to fetch the bones of the goose he had eaten. And then she prayed, hard, because Werburga thought geese were important and ought to be noticed and God must have thought so too because, as she prayed, the bones started to move and fit together, and as she prayed some more, flesh began to cover the bones and, as she prayed some more, feathers began to sprout out of the flesh and soon there was a live, hissing, honking goose waving its great long snake like neck at her, where before there had only been a pile of bones.

And the goose lowered its great long, snake like neck and bowed to Werburga, to thank her for her kindness in noticing that it was missing. And all the other geese did the same. And then they spread their wings and with a last great honk they launched themselves into the air and flew away.

So when you see geese flying overhead, and hear their honks filling the air, remember Werburga who looked and listened and noticed the important things in life.

A story for thinking about friendship, kindness, love, spirituality, wisdom…….

PrintYou can hear me talk about character strengths in action stories and tell this story here

One of my geese is missing – the story of St Werburga

You can find more of my stories here:

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Character Strengths, Well-being in education

Character Strengths in schools: friendship and storytelling, mental health and well-being

Over the past few weeks it has been my pleasure to pay 3 visits to a lovely primary school called #Thomas Gray in #Bootle.

I have been working to introduce staff and pupils to the ideas of thinking and talking about #character strengths, telling stories together, and celebrating what’s good in life on a regular basis.

In the face of increasing concerns about child and adolescent #mental health, schools like Thomas Gray  are working hard to make sure that they create a school environment that supports the development of positive mental health, also referred to as well-being or resilience. And thinking about your character strengths – and how you can use them to make the world a better place – is an important part of that process.

The children are not really encouraged to think about how their use of character strengths can make themselves happier – though this will probably happen. Rather, they are encouraged to think about how using them can help others and enrich their classroom and their school, how their strengths can contribute to their community. Children, in my experience, like thinking about ‘character strengths and virtues’ – and engaging in deep philosophical discussions about them – because children are intensely ethical and often altruistic people, who want to save the world and think about others.

We see growing signs of emotional distress in young people today, as shown by the growth in self-harming. I suspect one of the many factors that may contribute to this is what academics call ‘individualisation’ or the ‘turn to self’. If me and my happiness and what I look like and me owning stuff and having stuff are all that matter, life is actually rather barren. And if I am not ‘happy’ after all, what use is life at all?

In a tiny way, thinking together about #friendship, #love and #kindness, as we have been doing together at Thomas Gray, and telling the story of The Elephant and His Mother and St Werburga, are our way of saying to ourselves and to the children, ‘there is more to life than ipads and ipods’ and more to education than exams and league tables and more to well-being than money. Other people matter, you matter because you are valuable – not for what you earn or will earn or possess but because you are an extraordinary human being NOW and you CAN and DO make the world a better place and you CAN and WILL do so in the future.

We hope we are laying the foundations, with these primary school children, for resilience and well-being in later life. And I suspect that real well-being has more to do with being able to forget about yourself than it has with spending your whole time thinking about ‘you’.

The Elephant and His Mother and the story of St Werburga (my retelling is called ‘One of my geese is missing) can be found here:

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