Examples of using art to deepen empathy:
>>The Borderland Foundation
>>The American Slavery Project
>>Ping Chong & Company
>>Exit12 Dance Company
>>Los Angeles Poverty Department
Barthes, Roland, “Leaving the Movie Theater”,
Roland Barthes, in Philip Lopate, ed., The Art of the
Personal Essay. Doubleday 1994.
3. Engage Further Discussion:
What is left Unsaid?
True Story Theater in Boston in 2013, photo by Jason Jedrusiak.
In closing, we return to a question rather than to
answers. How might our field expand if we employed
tools from arts-based practices rich in perceptual,
sensorial and cognitive strategies, which can guide
mediators to be “twice fascinated?” Drawing from
our case studies, and the mentors and peers who
have inspired our use of empathy, we offer the
following guiding principles to cultivate perceptual
and bias awareness and deepen an experience of
empathy in conflict transformation:
• Listen for connecting threads (active
listening and “narrative listening”)
• Recognize that mind and body are
• Allow sensorial experience to inform
• Recognize that internalized experience
forms patterns of belief and bias
• Recognize that experiencing empathy
for another person requires first
experiencing empathy for the hidden
part of oneself.
• Balance attention between form and
• Have patience and understand that
recognition takes time
Finally, we offer one question: What is one risk
you could take in your practice to creatively cultivate
awareness and deepen empathy?
3Playback Theatre ( www.playbacknet.org), foundedin1975by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas, is empathy embodied. In Playback participants/ tellers share an important story from their life, which an ensemble of actors then spontaneously and sensually brings to life through words,
movement, color, gesture and music. The story is mirrored back to the
teller evoking an empathic emotional response from the teller towards
herself often deeper than previously experienced, as well as evoking
empathy towards the teller from the audience. Playback takes place in
school classrooms, church basements, hospital hallways, conference
rooms, and police stations to elicit the stories behind loss and hurt,
stories that are often the underbelly of conflict.
Playback builds a bridge between people, accessing the richness of their
emotional and sensorial experiences and giving dignity to their internal
struggles. Playback builds empathy for the shared grief, longing, fear and
hope between people, an essential tool in humanizing people in conflict.
Many mediators use techniques to draw out the telling of personal
stories, as in Narrative Mediation, which looks for patterns of repetition in a party’s spoken story and guides a shift of the story to one
of non-victimhood and possibility. Building on Narrative Mediation,
Playback models sensorial evocation of a conflict narrative that places
conflict within a context of humanizing relationships. Playback adds
a rich understanding of a conflict story that goes beyond the spoken
word to touch us sensually – “as a living, fomenting ingredient within
the conflict rather than a simple account of the conflict,” (Linda M.
Park-Fuller, PhD, Beyond Role Play: Playback Theatre and Conflict
Transformation,” Centre for Playback Theatre. 2005). Witnessing a
story “played back” with all the artistic components of metaphor,
sound and movement deepens the teller’s understanding of his/her
story and reveals to other participants their own perceptions in visceral “ah-ha” moments.
Mediators looking to catalyze or deepen empathy within a mediation
context can invite a Playback ensemble to playback/reflect stories of the
parties involved, and guide parties to recognize their own responses.
Examples of the use of Playback include narratives between descendants
of Nazi soldiers and Holocaust survivors, between Boston citizens who
have been incarcerated, within families dealing with the tensions of
inheritance and legacy, and among university stakeholders creating a
healthy environment for diversity.
Eva Vander Giessen on Playback Theatre