By Roger C. Kostmayer
The 2022 Key West Literary Seminar was a success and there are too many who deserve kudos to name. One unusual session was about Narrative 4 (N4), an unusual nonprofit that started in one Colorado public school and rapidly grew to a global organization promoting what’s called “story exchange.” N4 consists of artists, writers, educators, and lots of young people. Their exercise begins with “My name is …” and ends with significant change in the participants’ empathy.
Essentially N4 is a personal story exchange and role play that expands understanding and empathy among diverse — and often opposite — participants. Diverse means different racially, economically, religiously, politically, in gender, sexual orientation, geographically, and/or personality.
Each individual tells their partner their own personal (and often painful) story, one that in some ways defines them. Their partner, participant two, then tells their own story back. Next, each one must tell the OTHER’s story from the inside, using the other’s name and identity as the story teller. Thus, each participant tells two stories, their own and their partner’s, which may be why this two-plus-two exercise is called Narrative 4.
What happens when both young and old human beings do this is they realize that they matter, that their stories matter, that their lives matter — and so do the stories of others who are very different.
The ultimate goal, I believe, is for this simple, honest sharing of stories to improve empathy and humanity in every town and community. And it already seems to be working around the globe: on four continents, in sixteen countries, within eighteen of our United States, and among thousands of diverse participants.
Any honest effort to increase listening, empathy, and understanding of those we think are different sounds promising to me.