Tag stories

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative …*

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be, whether we are listening to Big Bird’s take on life or Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon.

Stories remain central to understanding well after childhood. When people make judgments about right and wrong, even in politics or the jury box, they often do so as a result of a story that they construct about events that have happened. […] It’s just human nature.

-Stuart Brown in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately–those we tell, those we remember, those we believe, and those we feel compelled to challenge and rewrite. As Stuart Brown highlights above, stories are the key unit of understanding in human life. We look up at the sky and feel compelled to connect the stars with imaginary lines. Yet, the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in a single story are very real. If we are only able to view human identity–our own and that of others–through a single lens, we run the risk of falling prey to essentialism and a complete breakdown of any opportunity for empathy and true human connection.

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes  the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one preeminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. That we are not. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect–and denial–of the role of reasoning and choice, which follows from the recognition of our plural identities. 

– Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time)

How do we go beyond the single story or the first story that we create about ourselves and those around us? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of simply asking strangers and friends about their hearts and their stories. But I really am curious, how do you think we might go about getting a better sense of the plurality and fullness of each other’s identities? As I wait for your answers, here is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2009 TED talk, in which she poignantly addresses the perils of limiting ourselves to a single story.

So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.
. . . *
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
. . . * 
I have always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult, it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
. . . *
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and
to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
. . . *
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there’s never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story 

THE { } AND – A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us …*

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

Just last week I was writing about the really exciting trend amongst filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of their craft and medium to enhance and rethink human connections. Here is a new project from director Topaz Adizes, THE {  } AND which is a bit reminiscent of Tiffany Shlain’s Cloudfilmaking in form. THE {  } AND is a human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern world–think StoryCorps but with a visual component.

Basically, how this started is someone came to me and said, “Topaz,” a year and a half ago, “let’s make a documentary about why better looking people these days get farther ahead.” Alright, let me think about that, that’s not really interesting. What’s really happening is that because of technology–I mean there’s more cell phones in the world now than there are toothbrushes—and that didn’t exist seven years ago. I mean, all of a sudden we have the smartphone and it’s giving us access, it’s changing the way we’re relating, stigmas are changing, economics are changing, the way we relate is totally changing—that’s what’s interesting. And I’m thinking, now, do I make a doc about that or do I create an entity that creates experiences that explores that. What’s the best way to tell this story and it was not for me to make a classic 90 minute feature documentary. No, no, no, let’s just create a bunch of interactive experiences that discuss this subject. 

THE {  } AND lets you browse the couples’s interviews or you can answer four questions about your relationships and they create a customized short doc suited to your answers created to spark your interest and direct your browsing. You can also play a short version of the game on the website or order the set of question cards to play it at home.

199 questions to explore your connections with your partner and loved ones. Deepen your relationship by asking the questions you’re dying to know but are afraid to ask. This is a ride worth sharing.

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

© The Skin Deep Media

In the interview below, watch Adizes talk about the project and discuss his plans to create a whole ecology of tools to help all of us explore modern day relationships—from further interactive interviews, apps, to the analogue card game.

THE {  } AND is a relationship genome project that we’re making, which is already growing beyond romantic couples; it’s growing between mothers and sons; daughters and fathers; siblings; coworkers; collaborator; we’re doing deaf couples, blind couples—really jumping into relationships. And we’re going to make this that human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern day and it’s all feeding from a content collective called The Skin Deep and we’re creating a bunch of experiences like this. This is the first one, it’s called THE {  } AND, it’s exploring intimate relationships, 

The content is addictive, the conversations between the couples are honest, vulnerable and touching. On a final note, of special interest to NYC rethinkers:

THE {  } AND invites parent/child duos to come in for 1 hour and use a deck of question cards we provide to interview each other. It’s like the best therapeutic conversation you can have – done in a creative interactive filmmaking twist!

You keep the footage of your entire session as a home video and we create a 4-5 min video to include within our interactive documentary. Reconnect with a loved ones and share your story on our relationship genome documentary.

Filming in NYC this weekend –May 2nd to 3. Go to The Skin Deep Tumblr for more info.

{ The Potential of Virtual Reality to Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine } Chris Milk: VR Is A Machine That Makes Us More Human …*

“[Virtual Reality is] not a video game peripheral, it connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other. And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world. It’s a machine but through this machine, we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human.” – Chris Milk

I’ve been getting very excited over the last few years witnessing the growing trend of filmmakers who are actively thinking about and engaging the potential of their chosen medium to foster and advance an empathy revolution. (Rethinked favorite, Tiffany Shlain, who has been pioneering a new form of collaborative filmmaking“Cloud Filmmaking,” just recently gave a TED talk on empathy.) The connection between storytelling and empathy is an ancient one but with advances in technology and neurobiology, we are getting a better understanding of how stories engage our emotions as well as being able to push the boundaries of how these stories are told. In this captivating TED talk, filmmaker and self-described ‘maker of stuff’, Chris Milk explores the potential of Virtual Reality to help us become more human and empathetic by transporting us more viscerally into the emotional worlds of others.

Film is an incredible medium but essentially it’s the same now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things with those rectangles. But I started thinking about, is there a way that I could use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways, and tell different kinds of stories that maybe I couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for a hundred years. So I started experimenting, and what I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine. 

But then I started thinking about frames, and what do they represent. And a frame is just a window. I mean, all the media that we watch–television, cinema–they’re these windows into these other worlds. And I thought, well great, I got you in a frame but I don’t want you in the frame, I don’t want you in the window. I want you through the window, I want you on the other side, in the world, inhabiting the world. So that leads me back to Virtual Reality. Let’s talk about Virtual Reality. […] It’s difficult to explain because it’s a very experiential medium–you feel your way inside of it, it’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life, it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world that you’re inside of and you feel present with the people that you’re inside of it with.

Watch Milk’s TED talk below to see how he’s been harnessing the power of Virtual Reality to get his audience out of the frame and into the world of his subjects.

imagine, feel & rethink …*

{ The Power & Potential of Stories } “I Was Seen By Many but Actually Known By Few | Every Single Life Matters Equally & Infinitely”…*

“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.[…] What else have I learned? I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength. […] And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice”

– Dave Isay

This week’s Friday Link Fest theme–the power and potential of stories–was set by my teammate Jenna with her post on Monday about the artistry and potential of storytelling–for learning, for empathy, for social activism, for relevance and self-empowerment. I then received the latest issue of New York Magazine, their fifth annual “Yesteryear Issue,” a collection of vignettes about old New York and delighted in losing myself in stories of a New York I have longed for but never known. Then two TED talks kept repeatedly popping up on my newsfeed, Monica Lewinsky’s talk on the price of shame and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s talk where he shares his TED Prize wish:

“that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world, so that anyone, anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being, which will then be archived for history.”

I loved the contrast between both talks, one about the risks and dark underside of a digital archive in a culture bent on shaming and public humiliation, the other on the immense potential of the Internet to act as a digital repository of human wisdom, dignity and compassion. Both talks were brilliant and urgent calls for courage, empathy and connection.

In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky bravely opens up about her experience of being “slut-shamed’ and publicly humiliated in the nascent era of online news and calls for a collective rethink of our contemporary culture of shame and humiliation which enables cyberbullying.

“Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long held value of compassion; compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit and empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy.” Shame cannot survive empathy. I’ve seem some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, friends, professionals and sometimes even strangers that saved me. Even empathy from one person can make a difference.

[ … ] 

“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”

– Monica Lewinsky

“Over the past couple of month, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, any time. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever. But at this very moment we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview. And then with one tap, upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress. That’s the easy part–the technology. The real challenge is up to you. To take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world.

This is the key point, echoed in both Lewinsky and Isay’s talk, that technology is just a tool, a tremendously powerful tool, but that its power and potential comes entirely from us, the people that use it. Are we going to create a digital archive of shame and humiliation or a repository of empathy, dignity and human wisdom? The choice is ours and both talks remind us of the very tangible weight and responsibilities inherent in this choice.

“At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring, and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity. And maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important and maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

How might we start going about nurturing these types of conversations? Isay shares a few excellent ideas:

“Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment, where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country, records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine, mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down, not to talk about that conflict, but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so begin to build bonds of trust. Or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday. Or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life and how they want to be remembered. “

My 81 year-old grandfather is flying in from France next week and I absolutely can’t wait to try out the StoryCorps app with him!

“Empathy is feeling into someone else” – Tiffany Shlain: What We Can Do Today To Rethink Our Potential …*

"Empathy is feeling into someone else" - Tiffany Shlain: What We Can Do Today To Rethink Our Potential ...* |rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Tiffany Shlain’s TED MED Talk, Summarizing our Unique Human Strengths …*

“Let’s do a little cross-disciplinary thinking right now. I want you to sit and I want you to think of your biggest challenge–everyone in this room, we’ve all got a challenge that we’re wrestling with–think of the three people that you’ve talked to about that challenge. Now I want you to try to think of three people in completely different areas that you could talk to about that problem. What would a car mechanic say? What would a biologist say? What about an artist? What about a child? How would they approach your problem? That’s cross-disciplinary thinking and the more you do it, and the more you think that way, the more it will just naturally come. And I think that we’re all talking about multi-tasking but we need to be talking about multi-perspectiving, which is not a word–so, multi-thinking. And how do we bring that more into our everyday challenges?” – Tiffany Shlain

In this inspiring and moving TED MED talk, filmmaker and rethinked …* favorite, Tiffany Shlain, examines some of the things we can each do today to rethink our human potential and evolve ourselves. Stressing the need for cross-displinary thinking and cultivating our unique human strengths, Shlain creates a compelling and hopeful portrait of the potential of humanity to connect as we transcend the challenges of the twenty-first century.

“We are connected to billions of people’s ideas and perspectives that we can cross-disciplinary think with. And when you get that kind of collision of different perspectives, that is when breakthroughs happen. It’s also when empathy happens. And empathy is another incredible thing that distinguishes us as humans, that even the most sophisticated machines can’t experience. I loved learning this when I was researching empathy–empathy is feeling into someone else. I love that: feeling into them. And I think that when you see someone struggling, you’re feeling into them and you want to help them, you want to change their experience. So it’s interesting to think about empathy leads to compassion, leads to action. We need more empathy and action in this world, right? We definitely need that. So how are we going to do that? And the good news is that it’s through stories, through listening to people, through sharing stories, that is the way that you feel empathy. And when you hear a story it activates all these different parts of your brain and also, what it does, is it adapts your thinking. When you hear a story it can change the way you think about something. It can also synchronize your mind with someone else when you tell a story. And we think of our brains as private, as the only truly private thing we have, but we forget that our brains are incredibly public. The brain is a communal organ, it is our window on the world and it’s what allows us to connect with the world and contribute to the world.”

{ Tools for Empathy …* } Cowbird – A Public Library of Human Experience

{ Tools for Empathy ...* } Cowbird - A Public Library of Human Experience | rethinked.org

Screen Shot of Cowbird Website

 

Awesome resource alert –> Cowbird an online repository of human experience. I first discovered Cowbird last week, when it was mentioned in a design thinking workshop I attended, and I haven’t been able to stop browsing this treasure trove of human moments.

Cowbird is a public library of human experience. Our mission is to gather and preserve exceptional stories of human life, so the insight and wisdom we accumulate as individuals can live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We offer a simple set of storytelling tools, designed to encourage contemplation and depth — for free, and without ads. Currently, 41,908 authors from 183 countries have told 77,523 stories on 27,456 topics. We invite you to join us and contribute your stories.

On Cowbird, you can contribute your own stories; respond to simple storytelling prompts; find guidance on thousands of topics; browse stories by place or date and connect with authors from all corners of the world. And should you feel overwhelmed by all this choice, just hit the “Serendipity” button which will surprise you with a wonderful story. It’s far too cold, in New York at least, to spend much time outside people-watching, Cowbird is the perfect replacement to get your fix of insightful glimpses into the lives of others and our shared human experience.

discover, delight & rethink …* 

2 Great Women, 2 Great Online Courses –> Debbie Millman on Creating Visual Narratives & Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability …*


An Online Skillshare Class by Debbie Millman

Knowmads delight * here are two super exciting courses from some mighty intelligent and inspirational women.

Debbie Millman has a new course on SkillshareThe Art of the Story: Creating Visual Narratives, aimed at anyone with “a love of language, a passion for art, and a desire to bring them together.”

Join one of design’s most beloved advocates for a class exploring visual stories. Debbie Millman is world-renowned as the host of Design Matters, co-founder of SVA’s Masters in Branding program, president of the consultant group Sterling Brands, and an award-winning author and artist.

Learn how to craft a narrative, edit your writing, find inspiration in history, and experiment with materials. Plus, this class features an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Debbie’s personal collection of favorite visual stories, books, art objects, and more.

This class is ideal for designers, writers, and everyone with a story to tell. 

. . . *

Meanwhile on Udemy, Brené Brown is offering a course on the Power of Vulnerability aimed at “anyone interested in learning more about vulnerability and how to live wholeheartedly.”

By the end of the course, you will be able to 1) Explain how to cultivate shame resilience—the key to developing a sense of worth and belonging, 2) Discuss vulnerability as the origin point for innovation, adaptability, accountability, and visionary leadership, 3) Discuss emotional armory—how to avoid feeling vulnerable; myths of vulnerability—common misconceptions about weakness, trust, and self-sufficiency; and vulnerability triggers—recognizing what makes us shut down, and how we can change, 4) Summarize the 10 guideposts of wholehearted living—essential skills for becoming fully engaged in life.

I think these two courses would complement one another extremely well. The need for courage in creativity, and the ways in which shame and fear of failure harm the creative process are all topics that Debbie has addressed from her perspective as an artist on numerous occasions. In fact just last week, I featured Debbie (and Brené!) talking about wholeheartedness and courage. So why not learn how to harness your vulnerability as you learn to create visual narratives?

I’m enrolling this instant. Join me?

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling ...* |rethinked.org - photograph: Elsa Fridman

 When researchers study the brains of people trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of others, they can actually see a difference in the brain activity depending on whether that person is trying to understand a friend versus a stranger. Even at the level of blood flowing through your brain, you treat people you know well differently than people you don’t. – Teens These Days, Always Changing Their Gray Matter

This week had me thinking about the role of connection and feelings of connectedness in decision-making processes. Some of the findings coming out of decision research, which I’ve featured below, raise some very intriguing and urgent questions about the role of empathy and the need to think more carefully about the types of narratives we craft when trying to motivate people to take action or trigger generous behaviors.

“It turns out that our engagement with a cause– it’s not about numbers, it’s not about classes of victims, it’s really about two things: First of all, it’s emotional and it’s with individuals. We have evolved, we are hardwired to feel a certain amount of empathy and connection but with one other person, whom we see, whom we can relate to, not with a hundred thousand people half a world away. The other thing is that we want to feel like we’re having an impact so we want some kind of a positive arch, we want to see a difference being made. And so when aid organizations talk about 5 million people at risk and make it sound terribly depressing, they’re precisely hitting the buttons that turn people off.”

In this Big Think video Nicholas Kristof explores the kinds of connections that link us to social and humanitarian causes and motivate us to give, participate and take action.

“Some of the research about our preference for helping individuals over classes of people comes from experiments where people were asked to contribute in some cases to this child–when it was used, was Rokia, a girl from West Africa–versus a large group of people, millions of people suffering malnutrition in Africa again. And of course, everybody wanted to contribute to Rokia, to that girl, they wanted to help that girl, they didn’t really care about the millions of people being malnourished. But what was striking is that even though we intellectually know that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic,” that the point at which we begin to be numbed, is when that number, is when N equals two. The moment you added not just Rokia but had a boy next to her and said, “you can help these two hungry kids,” then people were less likely to contribute than if it was just Rokia. Likewise, people are less likely to contribute to a fund to save kids from cancer if the same amount of money is going to save not one life but eight lives. There really is this bias to help an individual. So we have to figure out, obviously the needs are vast, so we have to figure out how to open these lines of communication to move people at an emotional level to help an individual; but then use that empathy then to broaden and to serve so many other people who need help.”

Kristof’s talk had me thinking about Brene Brown’s definition of empathy and how it compares in particular to sympathy: Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Since our ability to empathize with another person is so dependent on our ability to imagine what it must be like to experience a situation from that person’s point of view, I wonder if thinking about multiple people’s pain or needs makes the illusion that we can share in another’s subjective experience, that we can imagine what it feels like from their perspective, more fragile and difficult to buy into. Could it be that stories and aid campaigns that focus on a single individual drive empathy and consequently the necessary feelings of connection that trigger action while campaigns using groups of people drive sympathy and thus disconnection?

“One of the things that really struck me was there had been experiments that asked people to do some math equations, solve some math problems first, and it turns out that if you do that, that if you exercise the more rational parts of your brain, then you’re less empathetic, you’re less likely to contribute. Those of us who care about these issues, we need to figure out how to do a better job of storytelling about individuals and showing that there is a possibility of hope.”

I think Kristoff raises a very worthy challenge about the need to craft better stories. You may remember a video I shared on here last month that looked precisely at How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …* The short video examines the link between empathy, the narrative arc, neurochemistry and behavior by focusing on some of the findings emerging from Paul Zak‘s, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, research:

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

. . . *

Now for a different aspect of decision-making, on New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, in her article 4 Steps to Making an Overwhelming Decision Easy, Melissa Dahl highlights a recent study on the best decision-making strategy to adopt when faced with multiple options that “all seem kind of okay, like when you’re choosing a health-care plan or looking for a new apartment.”

Tibor Besedes at the Georgia Institute of Technology led a study — published recently in The Review of Economics and Statistics — that pitted three decision-making strategies against each other, and the best strategy was the one that treated the process like a tournament, 
  1. Divide the options into piles of four
  2. Choose the best option from each pile
  3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile
  4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections

“‘I wonder what’s really going on for him right now?’ – That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy”

"'I wonder what’s really going on for him right now?' - That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy" | rethinked.org

This week, the theme that caught my attention was this notion of creating sparks or moments of curiosity to activate and facilitate empathy, connection and community. Over on Ashoka’s Start Empathy blog, Joshua Freedman shares an instance where he got frustrated with his son over homework and failed to live up to being the parent he wants to be. His son was putting off doing his homework and Freedman started yelling and blaming him in an aggressive manner. In retrospect, Freedman acknowledges the various failures of emotional intelligence he exhibited in the way he responded to the situation and focuses particularly on the fact that he was overly focused on his own perspective and unresponsive to what his son’s internal reality may have felt like.

When I increase empathy and relook at the situation with compassion, I see a different story.  Perhaps he was afraid, too.  Perhaps he felt powerless, too.  Perhaps he’s learned the exact same pattern I’ve modeled: When you’re afraid, attack.  Perhaps our power struggle was simply two people afraid to honestly share their fears.

[ … ]

Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll remember to take that all-important pause and ask myself: I wonder what’s really going on for him right now? That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy, and it’s a game changer.

[ … ]

That little pause of curiosity is a way to step out of the stress reaction, and step into being the person we choose to be.

Then yesterday I discovered artist Hunter Franks whose various projects aim to do just that–to create these sparks of curiosity that promote empathy, and connection–across communities.

San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks challenges our ever-increasing personal and physical isolation by transforming public spaces into positive venues of conversation and connection. His public installations create shared spaces and experiences that break down social barriers and catalyze connections between people and communities.

Franks’ various projects include urban interventions such as The Neighborhood Postcard Project which,

collects personal positive stories from underrepresented communities and mails them to random people in different neighborhoods within the same city to catalyze connections between people and neighborhoods.

The Story Forest:

The Story Forest invited passersby to share a story from when they were little and hang it from the branch of a tree for others to read. The Story Forest created a playful shared space as participants took time to write their story and then weaved through the tree branches, reading the stories of others.

or The First Love Project:

Regardless of what we look like or where we come from, we all share the story of a first love. The First Love Project collects the story of people’s first love as well as a portrait and displays them in public space.

To amplify his efforts at creating moments of curiosity and empathy, Franks started the League of Creative Interventionist:

The League of Creative Interventionists is a global network of people working to build community through creativity. League chapters around the world carry out creative interventions that build connections between people and add to the vibrancy of their communities. 

I love everything about this–the mission, the ideas and the execution. To find out more about how to join or start a local chapter of the League of Creative Interventionists, head over to their website, where you can also check out past interventions from around the world. Prepare to be inspired and curious about your neighbors!

. . . * 

Hat Tip: Bringing Divided Cities Together, With A Little Creativity

{ Empathy & The Dramatic Arc } How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …*

“It seems like there may be a universal kind of story structure. So stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but in doing that they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry. And that’s what it means to be a social creature–is to connect to others, to care about others–even complete strangers. And it’s so interesting that dramatic stories cause us to do this.” – Paul Zak  

In this short animated video, Paul Zak, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, shares results from his lab where he and his colleagues found that stories that follow Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc could “change behavior by changing our brain chemistry.”

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

Source: Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc via Aeon

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