Once upon a time ….

In a poem written at about 1000B.C., it talks about the integrity of a JunZi, i.e. a superior person who upholds all the virtues.


The story goes….

Once upon a time, an ordinary man walked through a melon field, and one of his shoes got stuck in the field. The man quickly bent down to fetch the shoe. The melon farmer saw that and thought he was trying to steal the melons.

Retrieving a shoe in the melon field.

Retrieving a shoe in the melon field.

Similarly, another ordinary man walked under a plum tree with low-hanging branches. The branches messed up his headpiece. While he was stretching his arms upward to fix his headpiece, the plum farmer came running and yelling, thinking that this man was stealing his plums.

Fixing his hat under the plum tree.

Fixing his hat under the plum tree.

The moral of the combined Idiom stories advise us that to be a true JunZi (i.e. a superior person), one would rather leave the shoe behind than risk to be suspected that he might be picking the melons from the ground.  Likewise, one would also give up the headpiece without attempting to fix it in the second story in order to avoid the suspicion of stealing the plums on the hanging branches.

This idiom, In the Melon Field Under the Plum Tree, was recorded in the first Poetry Collection, Shi Jing, in 1000 B.C.  This is the first Idiom Story that I shared with my students to remind them to never get themselves into a suspicious situation such as looking down at something under the desk during a test.

Growing up, I have loved listening to Idiom Stories that explain the etymology of an idiom.  Most idioms typically convey positive messages or constructive lessons.

We love stories!

Children love stories, and grown-ups love stories….

Story-telling is a powerful tool to engage students in second language acquisition.

Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story-Telling (TPRS) is a methodology that facilitates a natural order of acquisition by focusing on Contextualized Comprehensible Input through auditory and written means while collaboratively creating a story in an interactive manner with the teacher and the students.  Students are captivated by the development of the plot first hand because they are experientially responsible for the turns and twists in the story line, with linguistic guidance from the teacher.

Ira Glass’s comments (advices) are interesting… and some are encouraging such as “failure is a big part of success”.  I often encourage my students to feel safe to make lots of mistakes, because learning from the mistakes make the experience so much more meaningful.

However, his comments on Radio, such as those below, left me dumbfounded.

“One of the problems with being on public radio is that people tend to think you’re being sincere all the time.”

Where radio is different than fiction is that even mediocre fiction needs purpose

I believe that in order for a story to be GREAT, it must be meaningful! And to be meaningful, it needs to have a function and/or purpose. The primary purposes are: to inform, to convince, to stimulate, to entertain. I found it difficult to accept that good stories can come from someone who is insincere about the story they are telling.

Best seller novelist James Scott Bell pointed out that most writers are not

James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell

content merely to write a good story. They want to “say something.”  “that something” he said, “is usually called the meaning of a story. Meaning is the “big idea.” It is the moral message that comes through at the end. And all great stories have one.”

Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton, who wrote Toy Story and Finding Nemo, says,

“The greatest story commandment is: Make me care.”  

Now, THAT is what I consider sincere! And once upon a time, the meaning of a story mattered.


  1. How to apply TPRS for Best Results, Carol Gaab, http://tinyurl.com/akhudgy
  2. What makes a story meaningful, Don Edgers, http://www.tiny-lights.com/searchlights.php?id=517
  3. Writing a Meaningful Story, James Scott Bell, http://www.right-writing.com/meaningful.html
  4. http://www.jamesscottbell.com/
  5. http://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/stanton.jpg

13 thoughts on “Once upon a time ….

  1. Joanne, you have written another very thoughtful post! I love that you question the sincerity of the story. What do you think about this…? …Suppose I tell you a story so you can think about something more deeply (like a fable) and the story is not real (fiction), but it is a convincing story with a strong point. Would you consider my untruths as insincere and ignore my sincerity in trying to help you? OR Do you see my intent behind the story as being sincere?

    What I gather from the quote you included is that people confuse realities between life and media because of the way things are presented, like in radio. One could be sincere about being honest or about being DIShonest. What the media sells you is what they think will affect you in any way that will adjust your thinking for a second or a lifetime. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

    • Ohmmm……. another very interesting question!
      The way I viewed sincerity in this context is not so much whether the content of the text is real or fiction whereas the person who is ‘selling’ the story is as sincere as they want to sound to you. I still naively believe in the simplicity of being truly genuine, especially when it comes to a profession as a radio personality, who, in my mind, must be someone that is a ‘people’ person who loves to connect with the society, wants to make a difference in every listener’s life every day…., who usually has a super soothing voice that makes you think that they really care about the topic they are talking about. I don’t know if you’ve ever listen to Delilah on the radio. Imagine one day if we find out that she is, in reality, a nasty person who is not only selfish but hateful and does not care about anyone, anything … NOTHING like what she portrays to be on the radio. What if what she is like on the radio is merely a ‘show’ that she puts on everyday because it ‘sells’ and it fits the audience demand? THAT, to me is what Ira Glass’s comment sounds like to me.
      “One of the problems with being on public radio is that people tend to think you’re being sincere all the time.”
      Had this statement come from someone else that does not work in the radio broadcasting business, the effect would have been different. But he is a radio-man, who is supposed to like his job. It just does not sit well with me.. Am I being too critical? or did I misunderstand him?

  2. Joanne,
    I loved learning about your Idiom stories! They remind me of a similar idea of fables that I was taught as a child, such as the turtle and the hare.

    I agree with you that a story must be sincere. Insincerity bleeds through and taints any project. It causes something that could be a really great story to fall flat. I am glad that you discussed this idea in your post. You have great insight and I love reading your posts.

  3. Happy to report that meaning in stories is alive and well, Joanne. In fact, it’s one of Pink’s Six Aptitude — http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2006/08/from_design_to_.html

    I was happy to hear of your idiom story about Junzi who strives to remain above reproach. It’s a nice connection to intellectual property, fair use, and copyright. The more we learn about these, the more competent and confident we’ll feel sharing our “collage of creativity” with everyone.

      • Glad to hear that the Symphony aptitude and corresponding projects will give you a chance to “jump off another cliff and develop wings on the way down,” Joanne. Most of us experience some degree of apprehension or at least uneasiness when faced with a collaborative project, perhaps even more so when it’s all to be accomplished online. I’m excited to try out a new framework for supporting collaborative efforts this semester, and I have high hopes that it will make the whole process smoother and less scary. First up, radio program!

  4. Joanne, I think you captured exactly what Glass was saying, though, I think it is an unfair expectation that radio personalities should be “people persons.” That is like expecting people who teach to like children. It is logical to think so, but is not always what happens as the media constantly reminds us. Some teachers find the routine convenient and the pay satisfactory enough to stay in the profession.

    I perceive radio show hosts and hostesses as entertainers and hardly ever expect for them to be genuine all of the time. There is a radio show host named Michael Baisden who poses controversial questions to his audience and often voices his opinion. However, I believe that his goal is to make people examine every day situations more in depth rather than to solely communicate his beliefs. I do not know if he actually enjoys what he does or is sincere about the stances he takes to get a rise out of the public. Sometimes, he swings between ideas to add even more intensity. In a nutshell, I think it depends on the individual as many things do.

    I actually co-hostessed a late night radio show on a local college campus while I was in high school. At the time, I was too immature to realize what a treasure it was. Nevertheless, I witnessed the “acting” that takes place behind closed doors. People want to be interested in something other than the same songs every week. They need a story to keep coming back for. =^)

  5. Your thoughtful response raises an interesting question in my mind, Preference. Joanne, do think that your construction of radio personality could be a bit different because of cultural expectations. I know that British radio “hosts” are considered to be merely “readers” and not real personalities, so there’s a different cultural expectation. Please tell us a little about radio personalities in China and either totally debunk or give my theory a little credence 😉

    • Dr. Crissman, I appreciate you chiming in. I was also wondering if there was a cultural difference since our last studio session revealed a similar contrast (regarding intellectual property). Joanne, I can’t wait to hear!

    • Merely ‘readers’??!! By golly! No wonder they sound so dry… ! 😀

      Honestly, I have never listened to any radio stations in China.
      Given that the government monitors everything there, I suppose genuinity may be hard to find.
      However, I can tell you about the radio personalities in Hong Kong and Taiwan that I listened to when I was little.
      They sounded very real. One radio artist in Hong Kong was very out-spoken during the Cultural Revolution regarding
      his anti-communist’s view. He had a steadily growing fan base at the time.
      But one day, he and his brother were burned to death in his own car by the leftists. That is the day that people in Hong Kong
      will never forget!
      I guess things change. I would not know if the radio today delivers the same sincerity in Asia. I think our
      views could be very heavily influenced by the environment that we were brought up.

      • Now that’s a powerful story, Joanne. No wonder you take offense when you consider that a radio personality may feign sincerity The Hong Kong radio artist (I really like that your use of “radio artist”) lost his life because of he wasn’t afraid to speak the truth he saw — to become a cultural activist. You’re right. This was not the type of radio that I grew up listening to in the Sandhills of North Carolina.

        Have I mentioned lately how much the cultural perspective you share enriches our class? Thank you! And, obviously, Preference appreciates your cultural contribution, too.

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