Interview -- Cathy Berger Kaye

An excerpt from interview with Cathryn Berger Kaye of ABCDBooks, for the Revised edition of The Complete Guide to Service Learning (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010).

An Interview with Kimberly K. Jones, author of The Genie Scheme

The Genie Scheme [sprang] from watching my children and their friends as they moved into "desire-acquire" mode. This seemed to begin with exposure to media in its various forms telling them and ultimately convincing them that things will make them happy, and advertised products will change their lives. The prevalent message is that the next object is the ultimate sure thing to being happy or cool. I watched my children succumb to this idea. Even though my kids grew up not watching TV, I was fascinated by how pervasive this message was.

The central concepts in the book are that the best things in life aren't things and the things that count can't be counted. I didn't want a preachy approach and I wanted to have as much fun writing it as the reader would have finding out what happens. So the idea began with a question: What if a kid could get whatever she wanted? Then I added a mischievous genie with an activist streak. This bundle of stray thoughts amounted to The Genie Scheme.

People are decent and want to do good, to do the best for the world. Faced with the constant bombardment of wanting things, this can get confusing for kids. Janna got in her original situation with the genie by doing something kind, a sincerely generous act. Most people are like that. We just need reminders sometimes to be our best self.

Initially, I hadn't connected with the "pay it forward" concept, but as I put Janna into this mess , it appeared as the solution to get her out. Could this be a mind set? A movement? Whatever you call it, it works! And being generous has widespread impact. It's a world view that does keep getting wider. After I sent the manuscript to my publisher, I read an article in the British Medical Journal* about happiness as a collective phenomenon. Really, it's what I was talking about at the end, the idea of people passing on good cheer, the power of a social network. Emotional contagion does exist in a positive way! Here I am integrating this idea into a novel, this idea and concept that I like, and it's based in science.

I think people have this natural urge to do the right thing, to be decent, but it can be easily be lost in the clutter of everyday living. But we behave differently if we believe that what I consume and how I consume and how I act matters. When Janna understands she has run out of Genie watts, she knows that she has this choice every day. We can all do this. Genie watts were made up to have fun with, but I think we all have "energy," and how we connect with people does affect the atmosphere around us. Who needs a genie!? We are our own genie!

Perhaps Janna's mother says it best: "If everybody understood that we are all connected, and that everybody has the power to change the world, I'm quite certain that the rest would take care of itself."

* British Medical Journal, Fowler & Christakis 337 (42): a2338 2008

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