Case Study, Empathic Intelligence In Practice

Teaching Empathic Intelligence to Teens: Part 1 – The Fairy Tale Game

Summary: This post describes an exercise I use with teens for developing their expanded knowing called the Fairy Tale Game.

My work is oriented towards one goal: that all humans access their Expanded Knowing. Gratefully, since this is a natural part of our humanness, accessing it is actually quite simple – and even more so with a bit of guidance and practice.

Towards that grand vision, I am starting locally by teaching an Empathic Intelligence course for teenagers. It started as a proposal I made to North Star and Lighthouse Holyoke, two self-directed learning centers for teens. Happily they were both receptive to my offer.

Flyer for the Empathic Intelligence for Teens course I teach.

If you’re not already familiar with the world of self-directed education (SDE), I highly recommend you do some exploring. In my view, SDE, like expanded knowing, represents an evolution of education. And, if you do know the world of self-directed education, then you know that North Star and the Liberated Learners model is pretty well known – famous, even. So I’m quite fortunate that “staying local” happens to mean working with an organization that I have been following for 20 years!

In fact, let me take a moment to lift this up: This Fall, I have been following my calling, AND working with organizations I respect and admire, AND furthering an evolutionary movement in education. “Woo hoo!” to that degree of alignment! I wish it for all of us.

The Fairy Tale Game

To develop our empathic intelligence – that is, our ability to receive information about a system through direct perception – one of the first exercises I introduce is the Fairy Tale Game. It’s a variation on a process that I came across during my training in Systemic Constellation Work.

In my version, one person has the role of Director, and the others are Characters or Story Elements. After deciding who will be the Director, the remaining participants choose a color which will determine their role. Importantly, during the game, participants do not know the fairy tale they are playing, or the role they are representing. Only The Director knows this information.

The intentions of the game are:

  • to practice systems sensing,
  • to affirm one’s sensing capacity by comparing our experience to what we know about the fairy tale, and
  • to gain new insights and paths of inquiry about the story.

Playing the game. To play, the Director and I work together to identify a few scenes from the story to set up. They bring in the characters required for that scene, place them in the scene according to how they imagine it. The characters are then invited to “tune-in” – to sense into the scene and follow their movement. My instructions are usually, “trusting what arises, follow your movement.” Because they have not been given any information for their mind to grab onto, they must rely on their inner sensing to determine how to move. To help them drop out of their heads, I encourage participants to experiment and play until they find the arrangement that “feels right”.

After the representatives have had time to sense and move, the Director asks for a report from each character, and can ask questions or test out different arrangements for the participants to sense into. We continue like this until all of the scenes have been set up and played. The final part of the game is the big reveal of the story and the roles the participants have been representing, followed by a discussion of their experience.

So what happens? Some look bewildered and uncertain, others are quiet and reflective. Some connect with an immediate sensation, others take several moments to see if what they’re feeling is “just in their head” or an authentic movement. They respond to impulse, instinct or spontaneity, or they have an inner energetic or emotional response that guides them. Others are very sensitive to one or more of the other characters in the scene. Or perhaps something completely unexpected emerges.

The game process will be familiar to anyone who as ever experienced a Family or Systemic Constellation. What makes this different and a useful exercise is that we have enough understanding of the story and the dynamics of the fairy tale that we can use it as a tool look at the accuracy of our sensing and ask questions about what’s happening when things don’t go as expected. And, because the stories also contain deeper symbolic, allegorical, or archetypal meaning, this process can bring us into direct contact with that level of information.

I’ll share more about those things next time!

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