In today’s post, you will read about an Empathic Seminar I introduced at a school in Bronx, NY. This is a firsthand account of the Fourth Key to Unlocking Your Empathic Intelligence: Field Testing. I further debrief this exercise in my final post.
“I want to know why my students use the N-word with each other. Don’t they understand the history of that word?”
The questioner was an older African-American teacher from the Bronx. He said he grew up in Virginia, and he would never think of using that word.
Immediately, I noticed bodies shifting in preparation for the discussion. But I reminded the group that our work this day was not to use our analytic capacity but our empathic capacity to explore this question.
“Every question contains a whole system of relationships. What are the core elements of this question?” I asked. After a brief discussion, we decided upon three elements, “Black Person”, “White Person” and “The N-Word,” and that they needed to be examined in two time contexts – 19th-century slavery and 21st-century youth.
Three volunteers representing “Black Person”, “White Person” and “N-Word” were placed facing each other in the center of the room. I told them that they were in the 19th-century slavery setting. After a few seconds of silence, I invited them to follow their movement. Very quickly, “Black Person” moved as far away from “White Person” and “N-Word” as possible, while “White Person” moved closer to “N-Word”. “Black Person” reported that if they could, they would leave the room. “White Person” and “N-Word” were shoulder to shoulder, looking silently at “Black Person”.
In the next round, I asked for three new volunteers. They represented the same elements, but this time in the 21st-century youth setting. The representatives started as before, standing in the the center of the room facing each other, but this time “Black Person” pulled “N-Word” close and placed their right arm around “N-Word”, while holding up their left hand as if to stop or block “White Person”. “White Person” said okay, and moved a slight step back. “Black Person” reported that they felt like “N-Word” belonged to them, and “N-Word” nodded in agreement.
We closed the exercise here. After thanking the volunteers, I asked the teacher who brought the question if he had any questions or reflections. He shook his head no. “I understand,” he said.
At the end of the exercise, as is often the case, a silence settled in, followed by the percolating of questions and comments. After the group came to a close, a teacher walked up to me, looking very thoughtful. “This is revolutionary,” he exclaimed. “When we started, I couldn’t imagine how we could find out anything about this question without discussing it, but what happened was so revealing. This changes everything.”
A note for those following the Four Keys: In my last post, I introduced the Three Fields Model. The model is a guide to help people map the system in which their questions are embedded.
The Three Fields are:
- what is known,
- what is the history, and
- what are the limits, resources and drivers fueling or blocking the system.
In practice, we are not necessarily mapping each Field so explicitly. In the example below, what is known emerges directly from the question. The historical context is included by changing the time period of the two versions we set up. And the driver is revealed by how the parts of the system interact.
UPDATE:I’m pleased to announce the online course: Introduction to the Empathic Seminar.