This is a gallery of images collected during NEST (November Experimental Story Telling), Fall 2016. Participants were invited to share an image that represented a relationship or partnership in their lives. Captions offer additional context for their selection by each participant. During NEST conversations, participants explored one another’s photos in a layered sequence of inquiry and interaction. This discovery process begins with each participant working with someone else’s photo. They are each invited to offer a surface level description of what can be seen in the photo based on the visual elements and subject matter. The others in the group listen without interruption. After each image is described, there is another round of conversation that invites participants to offer possible interpretations as to why they think the image was shared as a representation of a partnership or relationship. After this, pairs within the group get together to tell the fuller story of the image they shared to one another. They are invited to listen carefully to their partner’s story as they will then return to the group with the task of re-telling the story of the image as if it were their own. This first person storytelling was inspired by the work of Narrative 4.
For one minute on Thursday, October 27, I was not myself. Instead, I was Amy.
Before I was born, my family had a lot of suggestions about what my parents should name me. Because my birthday is December 7, my veteran grandfather suggested I be named Pearl Harbor. On the other side of the family, a lack of boys led to the suggestion to name me Buford (Buffy, for short) to carry on the family name. Thankfully, my parents didn’t choose either of those names and named me Amy after one of their friends. I did, however, end up loving Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
When I returned to being Lucy, I learned that the point of becoming someone else for just two minutes was to understand empathy as it relates to storytelling. A version of this exercise was originally created by Narrative 4, a storytelling organization whose mission is to “Build a community of empathetic global citizens who improve the world through an exchange of personal narratives.” During one particular application of this activity, Narrative 4 partnered with two high schools in New York by pairing students from each of the schools together to share each other’s stories. You can read the piece about their interaction, The Tale of Two Schools, in the New York Times Magazine.
What surprised many of the storytellers at the Imaginative Leap: Digital Storytelling & Empathy Workshop were the details their partner (story listener) chose to focus on when retelling the stories of their name. A passing comment or minute detail on the part of the storyteller in some cases became the main focus of the story listener’s retelling. People selectively choosing certain details and not others when they recount stories illuminates an important point that extends beyond this naming activity. As a group we suddenly realized that these interpretations and reinterpretations happen every day, in every interaction. This forced us to ask, “How much of what I say is actually being synthesized by others?”
This question has been rattling around my brain for about a week now, yet still has me seriously questioning almost every encounter I have. What are people really taking away from what I say? How am I differently shaping what I say based on the person I’m talking to? Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing, and that’s what makes empathy so difficult to understand. We can try as hard as we can to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but we will still be ourselves in their shoes.
Danny Pavitt made this dilemma clear in his IDSP Project storytelling fellowship project submission from the 2015-2016 school year. After the adapted Narrative 4 storytelling game, workshop participants watched Danny’s video, “A Day in Her Life.” The video shows the ins and outs of daily life for a Mapuche (indigenous group of Chile) tribe leader, with selected images, audio, and video recorded from the day she was visited by MIIS students. After watching the video [together with other workshop participants] and observing some discussion, I revealed to the group that I had also been on the Chile trip with Danny. My experience with the woman featured in his video was quite different from his, and the fact that neither Danny nor the leader were present at the workshop was the biggest lesson in empathy of all. Who was I to give my perspective on someone else’s story about another someone else?
It’s a question, just like the one about how our own perspectives shape what we hear, that is still marinating in my grey matter. Having now attended two of the four #IDSP17 workshops, I’m convinced that the only way to answer these questions is to continue to explore other stories and the empathy that accompanies them. Luckily, the December #IDSP17 happening will present opportunities for further conversations like these. Join us at the DLC on December 8 from 12:15-1:45 and keep your eyes peeled for more information. Hope to see you there!
One bowl of spaghetti. Two forks.
What do you think of when you read these six words?
My first interpretation of this six word story was Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, but I struggled with seeing how the dogs would use the forks. Another interpretation was that someone went to grab a spoon and fork out of the drawer, but they only had forks. A third interpretation was a date night at home, with two people cutely sharing one bowl.
It wasn’t until Dr. Netta Avineri proposed an alternative interpretation of the story as a metaphor for poverty (based on a novel perspective that a new student had shared with her) that the group considered the bowl of spaghetti from a new perspective. Unlike a cute date night, two people sharing one bowl of food means that there isn’t enough food to go around. This icebreaker put the participants of the “Building Community Partnerships One Story at a Time” workshop in the right mindset for the hour and a half adventure they were about to take.
Dr. Avineri is TESOL/TFL Assistant Professor and Chair of the Intercultural Competence Committee. DLC Director Bob Cole and Dr. Avineri are also the co-founders of the Intercultural Digital Storytelling Project (http://sites.miis.edu/idsp/). Her workshop on Thursday was the first in a series of three happenings that are a part of the Nested Stories project. These workshops, hosted in collaboration with the DLC, are meant to explore the role of interculturality and storytelling on-campus, and are part of the Envisioning Middlebury Community Initiated Conversations initiative. We plan to explore the Intercultural Digital Storytelling Project through reflection, community discussion, and a variety of presentations. During the workshop, participants from all corners of MIIS discussed the ways in which perspective and empathy are cornerstones to building mutually beneficial and meaningful partnerships.
We explored the importance of empathy by watching an RSA animate video about the power of Outrospection, in which Roman Krznaric explained why we need empathy in our lives.
“Empathy is something that can make you a more creative thinker, improve your relationships, and can create the human bonds that make life worth living”.
Krznaric went on to explain two types of empathy, affective and cognitive. Affective empathy is a shared emotional response, while cognitive empathy is an understanding of someone else’s worldview. Both of these empathies are essential when it comes to building partnerships, but it was the cognitive empathy that resonated most with workshop participants. We noticed the tie between perspective and cognitive empathy, and then had a discussion on the difficulty of changing perspectives. Netta noted the new literature on critical empathy, which highlights that no matter how hard we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and to abandon our own thoughts and biases, we will never be completely able to see the world through eyes that are not our own. While this prospect may at first seem disheartening, it was designed to highlight the hard work involved in true empathy. Participants were hopeful that with the continued practice of empathy, changing perspectives may get a little bit easier to manage. Netta also highlighted the role of “nests”, those groups and communities in which cultivation, growth, and evolution are facilitated. This lies at the heart of “nested interculturality” (Avineri, 2015), the ability to seamlessly move across cultural boundaries, which shapes this fall’s Nested Stories enterprise.
Netta noted that storytelling and story-listening can be the technology for empathy. As the workshop came to an end, participants had the opportunity to watch a digital story from 2015 IDSP fellow and 2016 senior fellow Katie Barthelow, and were encouraged to apply the concepts of perspective, empathy, and partnership to their discussion.
What resulted was a thoughtful analysis of the ways that Katie applied perspective and empathy in her informal partnership with the basketball players she met in Rwanda, and the ways that mornings became her comfort zone during an immersive learning trip in which so much else was novel.
We are thrilled with the turnout and execution of the first workshop and are excited to host the next session Thursday, October 27.