As a Narrative 4 veteran, I looked at the room full of new and old faces with a sense of unique familiarity. Everyone in the room had chosen to get together to share their story in hopes of gaining a better understanding of those around them at Seton Hill University (SHU) and of what it means to be human as a whole. They were all taking a courageous step in order to connect with each other. After all, the motto of Narrative 4 is “fearless hope through radical empathy.”
Narrative 4 is a unique and innovative program that finds its roots in modern grounds. The program started as a way to help high school students cope after the Sandy Hook mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. It seemed that the process of the story exchange of Narrative 4 could reach even the most reserved and guarded students in a way that every other attempt at aid failed to do. It is the process of trust, respect and validation that makes this empathy building exercise so different.
The procedure of a Narrative 4 story exchange is wonderfully simple. A group of people gather together and are debriefed on the program’s mission and what they will seek to achieve during their individual experience. They are then randomly sorted into pairs and are sent off to exchange a personal story with their partner. Typically, there are prompts to guide the individuals in choosing their stories. For this particular exchange, we were offered several options regarding our prompts. The only guidelines were that we discuss and describe a time we were afraid, a personal war, a time we were affected by race or a defining moment.
After the stories are exchanged between partners, the group reconvenes at a designated meeting place, where they will all be seated in a circle. They will then, one by one, tell the other person’s story while pretending to be them, even going as far as to introduce themselves by their partner’s name. As members of our Narrative 4 group began to speak, the emotional climate of the room was changed. The attention and care that each participant took in telling their partner’s story was incredible and moving. The audience was attentive and empathetic as well. Watching the expressions in the room change with every word was truly a unique and inspiring experience.
After the exchange, the coordinator of our SHU Narrative 4 chapter, Christine Cusick, asked the audience to discuss how the exchange had changed their perspective. The responses varied slightly, but several common themes were evident. The event had seemed to foster a sense of connectivity and belonging among the crowd that will hopefully be spread throughout the SHU community. Those who chose to talk on a sensitive topic found the exchange to be validating and strengthening. In addition, even though some of the stories touched on racial struggles and relations, the group seemed unequivocally inclusive. Though everyone respected and acknowledged our differences, they did not come between us and our collective spirit seemed all the more important.
This will undoubtedly not be the last Narrative 4 story exchange on our campus. Having experienced many in the past, I encourage everyone to attend, even if they are skeptical. It is genuinely a revolutionary experience both personally and interpersonally. It is definitely an experience for those seeking to understand the community, as well as themselves, better. For those who are already involved in the program but seek to further their part, there will be a training session for new Narrative 4 facilitators next semester. If you are interested in the Narrative 4 mission or becoming a facilitator, feel free to contact Cusick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Narrative 4 event here on campus was held on Monday. The event was housed in the parlors on the second floor of the Administration Building, with many in attendance to experience the festivities. The objective of the event is for different groups of individuals to come together to share, often times, personal stories with others, and to talk about their experiences in a group.
It’s an interesting thing to be a part of because you get a sense of what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, while getting to know a little about them and telling their stories. Many students felt it was kind of emotional at times, hearing different takes on their own personal stories.
James Paharik, a human services professor and event coordinator of human services at Seton Hill University (SHU), attended the event and shared a wonderful story. Many stories, like Paharik’s, were very inspiring to the roomful of individuals in attendance for the Narrative 4 event. It is said that the Narrative 4 event builds community and knowledge of how others go through certain situations, much like Paharik.
“I’m grateful for your courage, your presence and for the gift of your words,” said Christine Cusick, associate professor of English and composition at SHU.
The event often builds a sense of community with sharing a message of “becoming part of a global initiative to build a more empathetic world that seeks to uncover all that connects us as human beings,” said Cusick.