Ask yourself…

After you’ve read all six parts of “Use these stories to change the world!” ask yourself – and each other: your classmates, your teachers, your friends, your family, your neighbors – these questions.
We’ve asked most of them before, and we may ask them again!
Questions from “Use these stories…” Part II
1. “You pull the levers of democracy”
As you should know by now, if you scroll down to the bottom of the right-hand column on the Home-page here at this Web-site, you’ll find “You pull the levers of democracy” under RECENT STORIES.
But that’s too easy! Most of the time you’ll have to go through a few more steps to find stories.
So try to find “You pull the levers of democracy” where it really lives.
Click on Stories and Responses at the upper left-hand corner of the Web-page. That will give you seven menus to choose from.
Choose Being a Citizen, and then, in the next menu that appears, “You pull the levers of democracy.”
Read again what John Shattuck says about the Stories Exchange Project and Project Citizen – and what the students in Ivansice did.
At the end of that story you’ll find a space for responses. This is where you can write your answers to our questions:
What do you think about what the students did in Ivansice?
How did they learn about what the problem was?
Do you think you could do what they did? Do you think you could listen carefully enough to people’s stories to find out what they need and help them get it?
Do you have any initial thoughts about whom you might want to visit to identify a problem in your community that you and your classmates could help do something about?
Do you have any ideas yourself right now about what problem you might want to work on?
2. “You got him moving”
You can answer these questions at the end of the story in the Learning menu in Stories and Responses.
What about what Eva tells Helga about “special schools”? What do you know about “special schools”?
Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? The Nazis told the little Jewish children that they couldn’t go to school, and that made them want to. And when the little Romany boy heard about that he worked hard enough to get out of his “special school.” Have you ever reacted that way when somebody has told you that you couldn’t do something?
What aren’t you doing that you want to do, and think that you might be able to do, if something or somebody – maybe somebody’s story – , got you moving?
Tell Eva!
3. “The only weapon I have is to go around telling my story” in The Holocaust menu in Stories and Responses
Helga says that the girl told the other children not to play with her because the Jews killed Christ. Do we blame children for what their ancestors either did or are said to have done? Have you ever blamed someone for something that was done by his or her parents or ancestors?
Or for things that his or her people are said to be still doing? Or what they are said to be like—or unlike: remember Helga saying ” ‘Don’t play with these kids, they are different’: this is where it begins, with little things that at first don’t seem all that important.”
And do you understand what Helga’s talking about when she tells us what it was like for her to stand naked in front of the Nazi guards:
“When we came to Auschwitz we had to undress totally and we had nothing material. What we had, though, was what was in our heads and in our hearts.
And that of course goes hand in hand with what intangible values, what culture meant for us. We could read, we could draw, we could listen to music. This is what kept us people, and maintained our human dignity.
Even though we were stripped naked in front of those German guards we felt superior. It was culture and art that helped us. Especially art.”
Did something like that happen with Czechs during the Communist times? Is that why there was so much underground art and theater and music?
What do you make of the fact that the Czechs and the Roms and the Jews—sometimes at the same time, sometimes at different times—- have, in effect, been stripped naked of everything but what they have in their heads and hearts?
Tell Helga.
4. “We Roms have opened ourselves up to you” in Stories and Responses, The Broken Mirror
Have you had an experience that has opened you up?
What do you know about Romany culture?
What are some stereotypes you think that we should avoid in thinking about Roms? About Czechs? Or about people from some other social group which is not yours?
Tell us a little about your own experience of one particular person from another culture.
Questions from “Use these stories…” Part III
1. “I was a revolutionary, but I know I did not keep my promise” in Stories and Responses, Being a Citizen.
Have you ever felt the way Katerina did?
Have you ever thought you were in exactly the right place at the right time, and that you could do exactly what you wanted to do, in fact to change the world?
But then, later, did you realize that you hadn’t done what you promised—-yourself—- to do?
Have you ever wanted to make things better for other people? Have you wanted to in the way Katerina wanted to make things better for the Roms?
Or maybe just one other person: heave you ever been confident that you could make things better for one other person?
Tell Katerina.
2. “Why should the others be denied entry too?” in Stories and Responses, Being a Citizen
Is there anything you’ve seen happen in your town that you wished someone would report in the newspapers or on the radio or on television?
Would you think of going to a newspaper and asking them to send a journalist along with you to be a witness to something that was likely to happen again—- whether to yourself or to someone else?
Do you think people pay attention to what they read in the newspapers? Do they take it seriously enough to do something about it: to write to their representative in Parliament, for example?
And what about the police?
If you were a Rom—- and maybe you are: if you are, this is a good question for you, isn’t it?—- would you go to the police station to get a second witness as Ms. Budinova did?
And then if that policeman didn’t do all that you wanted him to do, would you file a complaint against him, as Ms. Budinova did?
Or if you were—- if you are—- Czech, would you ask the police to help, and if they didn’t, would you file a complaint?
But tell Iveta: type what you have to say at the end of her story.
And what questions do you have for her? Type those in at the end of her story too.
3. “They forced me into the car and took me to the police station” in Stories and Responses, Being a Citizen
What do you think about what the police did to Kumar – and about what Kumar did?
Do you know what “civil disobedience” is?
Have you read anything that the nineteenth-century American Henry David Thoreau wrote about it?
Do you know what Kumar’s fellow-countryman Gandhi did with civil disobedience?
And what Nelson Mandela and his friends did with it in South Africa – where Gandhi had in fact had his first successes with civil disobedience many years before?
4. “I started to record everything” in Stories and Responses, Being a Citizen
What do you think about what Ms. Kondasova does?
Does it surprise you?
Are there times when you wish you had a tape recorder with you so that there would be witnesses? As Kumar says there are not when Romany boys are chained to radiators at the police station in Ostrava.
Do you know that there is an organization in New York which distributes tape–recorders free of charge to people anywhere in the world who think that their rights are being violated?
Ask Member of Parliament Monika Horakova about that: you can send her an e-mail at
Or, even better, write to her at the end of one of her stories here at this site — maybe after “The Door is Open” in Stories and Responses, Learning?
5. “What has he left me? His name” in Stories and Responses, The Holocaust
You know, don’t you? that the Czechs were on Hitler’s list for eventual extinction as well, after they had served their purpose and kept the factories running to supply the German war machine?
Why do you think Milka’s father didn’t want to be a Rom any more? –- or at least wouldn’t contact her?
Do you think that you would have been able to take up normal life again easily after being in Auschwitz?
Do you understand why she wants to have word from him, even to know that he is dead?
But tell Milka: write to her at the end of her story.
6. “Even though our house had been destroyed” in Stories and Responses, The Holocaust
Can a story do something that other kinds of communication can’t do?
What happens to you when you – briefly and very indirectly, comfortably reading from a computer screen or a page – share Verka’s Romany father’s experience?
Tell Verka, tell all of us.
Questions from “You can use stories…” Part IV
1. “I too had walls in my head” in Stories and Responses, Meeting Others
Have you ever been in a situation in which you’ve been in the minority, outnumbered by the – others? Not just by people of a different culture or nationality, but by people who are bigger, older, of the opposite gender.
How did you feel?
Would you go to a party like the one Iveta went to? How do you think you’d feel there?
Do you have any walls in your head?
Have you ever met anyone that you were at fist scared of and then changed your mind?
Do you think that Iveta has Romany friends now?
2.”Can those boys still be considered skinheads?” in Stories and Responses, Meeting Others
Have you ever been in a group in which whites and non-whites were getting along well?
What held them together? What was there about the situation that made them cooperate?
What could you and your friends do in your school or community to get people of different cultures working and/or playing together?
Is there something about sports that help create an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual acceptance?
3. “A lot of people have bad experiences with us Roma” in Stories and Responses, Meeting Others
Why did the Romany kids stop damaging the man’s property? Why did Eva suggest that he invite them into his shop? What do you think made her think of this as a strategy? What did she know about the Romany kids that made her think it would work?
Have you seen this kind of thing happen in other circumstances?
Can you think of some way of adapting this strategy to bring about mutual respect between people of different groups in your community? This doesn’t have to be about bettering relations between Czechs and Roms: people of different ages, professions, even genders sometimes show disrespect for each other?
4. “Finally she realized that she was Rom” in Interviews.
The Interviews section here doesn’t give you windows after the entries in which to respond. So why not answer these questions in the window after either of two stories on a similar topic in Stories and Responses, Being Myself: either “I am Romany and I am proud of it” or “I have a heart and it’s not Czech.”
What is there about gathering and telling and discussing stories—- and acting them out—- that could bring about the kind of dramatic change that Ilona and Ondrej see in Ethela?
Do you think it’s important for us to know and identify with the cultural traditions of our families and ancestors?
Or why not?
Do you think you take some of your own sense of identity from your family’s traditions?
Do you know anyone who has belatedly discovered his her traditions? What effect has that had?
5. “I lost my taste for apples” in Stories and Responses, Meeting Others
When Milka gives you her humiliation and disgust, when she tells you step by step about what has humiliated and disgusted her, what do you do with it?
What can you do with it?
What do you WANT to do with it?
Has her story taught you something about what you can do with it?
Questions from “Use these stories…” Part V
1. A reminder about one of our suggestions about “She played first violin” in Stories and Responses, Learning.
You may want to get together with some classmates or friends and
“… make a short play out of the Maticni Street bathroom/kitchen story – and give it to an audience.
We’ve done that with a lot of stories, and the first was this one.
We divided a group of about thirty people into three smaller groups and we asked each group to analyze the story in something like the way we just did together, and then to put what they learned into a performance of the story.
There were three Pianis, three Ruzenas, etc. etc.
After each performance, all of us talked together about what we had learned by seeing each group interpret the story in their own way.
And then after all three discussions of the story, performances of it, and discussions about the performances we all talked together about the different things we learned from each version, and, in turn, from our discussions about each version.
We learned a lot.”
Here, again, are some of the questions we asked about relationships among the characters – the kind of questions that you’ll have to ask about everyone and every moment in the story if you’re going to act it out: Who is Piani? How does he relate to the people around him before the action begins?
Does he have to learn to relate differently to people during the events that he tells about—and then, we’ll ask later: does he have to learn to relate differently to people in the discussion in his kitchen?
Why did he go to talk with the director in the first place? We’re not asking what his purpose was, only how did he get included in the conversation? What gives him his authority?
How does he relate to Ruzena, his widowed sister-in-law, and to Kaja, her son? He’s her brother-in-law and Kaja’s uncle, but what other role does he play in relation to each of them?
How would you describe the way he speaks to the director?
Why do you think the director tell him to leave? She says that she won’t speak with him because he’s not Kaja’s father. Is that why she refuses to speak with him?
Does the director’s refusal to include him in the conversation put him in a different relationship to Ruzena?
And you might want to look back at the rest of our discussion of “She played first violin” in “Use these stories to change the world!” (V). It may help you start thinking more together about how to present the story as a short play and organize a discussion about it.
And don’t forget what we last said there about what a discussion is:
“A discussion creates a space in which you can
 — express your own thoughts
 – get new and different ideas from your classmates
 — make compromises.
It’s a concert, in which each person plays first violin for awhile and then passes the bow to someone else;
in which each player can question and play variations upon tunes proposed by other players but lets each player be heard
so that an interweaving of voices is created that is more beautiful and true to our common humanity than any single voice can be at any given moment.”
2. Four other stories you might want to act out and discuss.
As we suggested before, “Romanek solved his problem in his own way” in Stories and Responses, Learning.
But how about, as well:
“I lost my taste for apples”
“I too had walls in my head”
“Can these boys still be considered skinheads?”
As you know, all three of these are in Stories and Responses, Meeting Others.
Questions from “Use these stories… ” Part VI
1. “You can’t see the nose on your face in Methods
Have you had anything like Mitch’s experience?
Have you ever tried to do something good and found out that the people your were working with weren’t really cooperating—and maybe because they weren’t happy with themselves?
What have you done about it?
Do you think the Stories Exchange Project could help in that sort of situation? What could it do?
2. Tell Eva and Zuzka what you think about what they say in “You have to get up in the morning and go back and go on working with them” in Working.
Again, has anything like this happened to you?
What did you do about it? Or what did you wish you had done about it?
Did you get up in the morning and go back and go on working with the problem?
3. “All the jobs are taken” and “I told him not to lie to my face” in Stories and Responses, Working
Have you had anyone refuse to consider you for a job or for anything else because of the color of your skin?
Have you been discriminated against for any other reason?
If you are so fortunate that you have not been, try to imagine how you would feel if you studied for years, for instance, to get a job in a restaurant or hotel, and had to dig ditches instead?
What would you do about it?
Whether or not you have experienced discrimination yourself, how might you go about making it less likely that other people would have the kind of experience that Tomas and Gabina report?
How can you begin to change the situation by doing something very concrete, very small, very focused, in your own community, in your own neighborhood, in your own school?
Can you think of ways of working together with your friends and your teachers, your parents, your neighbors to make sure that whatever you think of doing can have greater effect?
Can you think about how to communicate your idea—and your practice: this is about DOING, not just thinking and talking—to other people so that they can be involved and help make it grow?
Questions from “Use these stories…” Part VII
1. “I mustn’t become white” in Stories and Responses, Being Myself
Milan says that he wants to do three things:
 — participate in a new approach to “the Romany question”;
 — serve as a role model for Romany kids and their parents as well;
 — prove to Czechs that Roms can contribute to society.
This has got to be hard work, don’t you think?
Imagine yourself trying to be all these things to these different groups of people who don’t understand each other.
How would you do it?
How would you make sure that you didn’t go too far over in the direction of the larger group (“become white”) when you know that the condition of your being respected by the smaller group is that you stay with them?
2. Questions about YOU
What’s your story?
Where do you come from? Where did your parents come from? What do they believe? What did their parents believe?
Who else are you besides your parents?
What do you believe in? What do you care about? Who are you?
Just find a window for a new story after any of the stories in Being Myself, and introduce yourself!
But it’s easier to tell about ourselves if we’re talking to someone else whom we’ve already met, however slightly. So why not tell about yourself to one of the people you’ve met so far anywhere at
Tell the person that you’re writing to him or her because of something that interested you in what they said or showed about themselves.
Remember: keep it personal!
And call us by our first names. . .
If we have the same first name as someone else here at this Web-site, give at least the first letter of our last name as well.
And of course talk about all the stories and all the questions: both yours and ours.
Talk with your classmates and teachers and parents and whomever you like: keep them all circulating, all these stories and these questions.
THEN you may begin to change the world, at least a little bit!