Performing Empathy: What Artistic Sensibility Brings to Conflict Resolution

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Thursday, October 10, 2013 …

Thursday, October 10, 2013
4pm - 5:30pm

Empathy is more than feeling for another; empathy allows us to listen for the emotional cause of a conflict. Arts have the inherent ability to short-cut cognitive and affective blocks and ignite empathy. In this session, we will draw from arts-based modalities to build perceptual and bias awareness, cultivate artistic sensibility to transform conflict-causing responses, and develop empathy. The facilitators bring over 40 combined years of expertise in conflict mediation, education, visual and performing arts, and body-based therapies. Ample time will be given to experiential learning and group discussion on how these arts-based modalities can be applied in varied contexts.

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  • 1.   1   Performing  Empathy:  What  the  Arts  Can  offer  Conflict  Resolution   Dorit  Cypis,  Susan  Oetgen,  Eva  Vander  Giessen                       Only  someone  who  is  ready  for  everything,  who  doesn't  exclude  any  experience,  even  the   most  incomprehensible,  will  live  the  relationship  with  another  person  as  something  alive   and  will  (her)  self  sound  the  depths  of  (her)  own  being.  –  Rainer  Maria  Rilke   The  arts  can  channel  the  human  impulse  to  make  meaning  of  the  world  through  a  variety  of   aesthetic  processes  that  result  in  relational  and  communicative  acts  between  people.  Shared   meaning  generates  empathy  that  ‘mediates’  –  moves  between  –  our  human  differences  in  the   world  we  co-­‐inhabit.    To  the  extent  that  art  can  generate  empathy,  and  empathy  can  bridge  the   differences  between  us,  art  is  implicitly  ‘mediative.’  Some  artists  more  specifically  use  the   relational  qualities  of  their  art  practice  to  mediate  conflict,  to  transform  an  audience’s  belief  and   behavior  by  raising  awareness  and  capacity  to  emotionally  identify  with  others,  or  by  engaging   people  in  a  participatory  process  that  invites  them  to  experience  themselves  within  a  conflict  and   co-­‐imagine  ways  to  engage  and  transform  it.  *  As  artists  and  mediators  we  know  that  the  arts  can   offer  techniques  and  methodologies  that  can  be  creatively  adapted  to  the  needs  and  contexts  of   traditional  mediation.       A  Closer  Look  at  Empathy,  Art  and  Mediation     Difference  can  be  incomprehensible  to  us,  fueling  mistrust  that  can  deter  us  from  engagement.   Recognizing  and  negotiating  personal  and  cultural  difference  is  dependent  on  empathy  between   people.  More  than  feeling  for  another,  empathy  requires  us  to  reach  deep  within  ourselves  and   attend  to  our  own  inner  responses  in  order  to  better  recognize  another’s  difference.  Empathy  in   this  sense  is  core  to  the  transformational  process  of  mediation.   Being  open  to  others’  responses,  while  recognizing  our  own  requires,  as  the  cultural  philosopher   Roland  Barthes  wrote,  being  “twice  present”1,  as  subject/participant  and  as  witness  -­‐  remaining   open  to  our  bodily  experience  AND  thoughtfully  to  being  present  in  our  mind.  Both  sensorial  and   cognitive  awareness  are  critical  to  a  mediator  yet  in  the  teaching  and  application  of  mediation   strategies  there  is  often  an  imbalance  of  attention  given  to  cognitive  and  sensorial  capacity.  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  present”?  Focusing  our  inquiry  on   how  arts-­‐based  modalities  can  be  applied  to  mediation,  our  goals  in  this  article  include:   1:  Build  our  capacity  to  identify,  describe  and  cultivate  perceptual  and  bias  awareness     2:  Catalyze  and  deepen  experience  of  empathy  in  mediation                3:  Further  Discussion:  What  is  left  unsaid?       Part  One:  Building  our  capacity  to  identify,  describe  and  cultivate  perceptual  and  bias  awareness.   On  the  penthouse  floor  of  the  MGM  building,  Century  City,  Los  Angeles,  we  met  in  a  large   conference  room  of  a  well-­‐known  law  office  at  the  end  of  a  typical  workday.  Jeff  Kichaven,  a   colleague  mediator/lawyer  who  taught  legal  process  at  Pepperdine’s  Straus  Institute  for   Dispute  Resolution  had  invited  me  to  make  a  presentation  on  what  the  arts  have  to  offer  
  • 2.   2   lawyers  and  mediators.  As  an  artist  with  a  history  of  working  with  space  sculpturally  and   aesthetically  I  knew  well  how  our  immediate  environment  shapes  our  perception  of  self  and   our  relations  with  one  another.  My  experience  as  a  mediator  had  significantly  been   enhanced  by  my  perceptual  skills  as  an  artist  and  an  educator  of  art.  I  was  invited  to   communicate  these  skills.       I  had  come  by  earlier  to  familiarize  myself  with  the  room  -­‐  architecture,  furniture,  lighting   and  multi-­‐media  capacities.  Although  the  room’s  dominant  quality  was  the  oversized  shiny-­‐ coated  table  with  its  parameter  pushing  the  room  edges,  the  room’s  technologically   oriented  aspects  easily  turned  the  table  and  the  occupants  seated  around  it  into  theatrical   characters.  I  discovered  that  at  the  push  of  any  of  various  wall  buttons  I  could  make  spot   lights  beam  and  dim  -­‐  flood  lights  bathe  and  shadow  areas  of  the  room  –  curtains  draw   closed  across  the  large  glass  4th  wall  to  the  outer  office  lobby  to  privatize  the  room  –   curtains  draw  open  to  reveal  room  content  to  passers  by  –  scrims  lower  over  the  floor  to   ceiling  windows  to  shield  the  room  from  the  sun  –  scrims  rise  to  expose  the  incredible   landscape  of  Los  Angeles  20  floors  below  –  wall  cupboard  doors  open  to  projection  screens   that  hum  electronically  as  they  lower  to  the  floor  and  rise  back  to  the  ceiling  –  video  flat   screens  turn  on  and  off  –  and  occupied  seats  swivel  in  360  degree  directions.       Sixty  people  showed  up.  They  sat  facing  one  another  around  the  conference  table  waiting   to,  as  usual,  conference.  For  the  first  twenty  minutes  of  my  presentation  on  aesthetic   strategies  I  ‘played’  the  room  to  orchestrate  its  shifting  potential  and  to  alert  the   participants  to  their  shifting  experiences.  They  were  mesmerized  by  the  infinite  variations  of   a  room  they  previously  had  taken  for  granted  over  hundreds  of  conference  hours  with   hundreds  of  clients.  For  twenty  minutes  they  were  released  from  hierarchical  social  identity   and  permitted  to  experience  sensation,  together.  This  was  aesthetic  lesson  number  one:  we   are  framed  and  conditioned  by  the  environment  we  are  in  –  made  distant  and  made   intimate,  in  sensorial  absence  or  presence  to  one  another.  Recognizing  our  experience  of   where  we  are  means  something.    –  Dorit  Cypis     One  simple  dictionary  definition  of  ‘aesthetics’  is  ‘the  branch  of  philosophy  that  deals  with  the   principles  of  beauty’.  Artists  respond  to  their  inner  life  and  their  outer  world  through  the  screen  of   aesthetics,  understanding  that  the  term  ‘beauty’  depends  on  multiple  factors  of  past  and   immediate  context,  intention,  form,  content  and  function.    Aesthetics  as  a  way  to  study  and   express  permutations  of  inner  and  outer  life  adds  subtle  power  to  our  understanding  of  humanity.     Somewhere  beyond  justifiable  rights  and  overwhelming  wrongs  is  the  ability  of  art  to  evoke   contradiction  and  uncertainty,  while  setting  the  stage  for  vision,  intimacy  and  passion.  The  arts   remind  us  of  our  utter  humanity,  vulnerable  yet  strong,  poor  yet  wealthy.     In  order  to  develop  and  hone  an  aesthetic  sensibility,  artists  are  trained  in  skills  of  personal  and   cultural  perception  to  recognize  sensory  and  cognitive  experience,  including  cultural  contexts  and   our  internalized  assumptions,  beliefs  and  bias.    What  can  perceptual  and  bias  awareness  training   involve  for  mediators?  How  do  we  decode  our  perceptual  frames  to  make  more  informed  choices?     As  founder  of  Foreign  Exchanges/artistic  methods  for  conflict  transformation,  I  have  adapted   aesthetic  tools  I  originally  developed  as  a  teacher  at  arts  academies  nationally  over  the  past  three   decades,  to  serve  me  as  a  mediator  and  trainer.    Dorit  Cypis,      
  • 3.   3   The  Seeing  Triangle   The  Seeing  Triangle  unpacks  three  interdependent  aspects  of  seeing  to  assist  us  in  understanding   the  uniqueness  of  our  individual  sight  –  to  more  fully  recognize  that  seeing  is  about  who  is  seeing   as  much  as  what  is  seen.     We  often  take  for  granted  the  experience  of  seeing,  assuming  that  what  we  see  is  a  self-­‐evident   truth.  Seeing  however  is  a  complex  phenomenon  that  is  simultaneously  physical,  perceptual  and   experiential.  Our  deeply  held  cultural  beliefs  and  our  personal  experiences  are  often  evident  in  our   assumptions  about  how  we  are  seeing.         Consciously  and  unconsciously  seeing  simultaneously  includes:     1.  FORMAL  SIGHT  -­‐  qualities  of  mass,  shape,  color,  texture       2.  PERCEPTUAL  SIGHT  -­‐  judgment,  beliefs,  assumptions,  comparison   3.  EXPERIENTIAL  SIGHT  –  subjective  qualities  of  emotion,  sensation,  pain,  pleasure.       Upon  seeing  a  chair  a  person  may  tend  to  primarily  see  through  a  perceptual  frame  of   prejudgment,  i.e.  I  hate  that  blue  chair.  Underneath  this  “seeing”  frame  there  may  be  a  repressed   memory,  an  emotion  and  a  sensation,  i.e.  the  blue  chair  reminds  me  of  a  chair  I  fell  off  of  at  age  5.   This  past  experience  remembered  by  the  body  as  pain,  if  not  recognized,  will  continue  to  shift  how   she  sees  all  blue  chairs.  Is  she  seeing  the  chair  before  her,  or  is  she  seeing  her  past  experience   mirrored  in  this  chair,  her  bias?     Recognizing  the  complexity  of  “how”   we  see  informs  us  more  subtly  of  our  tendencies,  bias  and   prejudice.  Substitute  person  or  place  or  situation  for  the  chair  and  you  can  see  how   bias  can  shut  down  engagement.  Self-­‐knowledge  is  an  important  process  towards  recognition   of  our  particularities  and  the  differences  of  others,  opening  new  paths  for  understanding  and   generative  engagement.  
  • 4.   4   Part  Two:  Catalyze  and  deepen  experience  of  empathy  in  conflict  transformation  practices                             The  arts  engage  the  mind  and  body  as  interdependent,  speaking  to  our  thinking  minds  and  to  our   body’s  ability  to  experience  sensorially  and  emotionally.  We  hold  emotion,  memory,  pain  and  joy,   thought,  dream  and  desire  in  our  body/mind.  We  each  are  repository  of  history  as  our  lived   experience,  physically,  mentally  and  emotionally.  When  we  reflect  on  our  experience  through   aesthetic  expression  –  form,  mass,  movement,  sound,  visuality  or  language  –  we  are  stimulated  to   revisit  the  repository  of  our  history  and  to  expand  into  new  experience  that  goes  beyond  our   history  to  the  history  of  others.  We  are  open  to  feeling,  thinking,  imagining  from  our  self  outwards.   In  the  process  of  expression  we  recognize  our  self,  an  essential  foundation  to  feel  and  recognize   the  experience  of  another.  Aesthetics  is  a  way  to  build  empathy.       In  this  light,  aesthetics  could  be  seen  as  a  strategy  to  move  others  to  see  something  about   themselves  or  the  world  that  they  didn’t  see  before,  and  the  practice  of  art  could  be  viewed  as   inherently  ‘mediative’  –  in  that  it  catalyzes  and  deepens  our  experience  of  empathy  –  even  if  the   mediative  intent  of  the  artist  and  the  purpose  of  the  artwork  or  creative  process  is  implicit  rather   than  explicit.    Specific  arts  practices,  then,  are  available  as  resources  for  mediators  to  examine,   adapt  and  apply  as  catalysts  of  empathy  within  traditional  mediation  practice.         Case  Study  1:  Susan  Oetgen  on  Fieldwork     Fieldwork,  a  program  offered  by  The  Field,  a  NYC-­‐based  non-­‐profit,  is  dedicated  to  the  creative  and   professional  development  of  performing  artists  (  Each  session  features  the   presentation  of  works-­‐in-­‐progress  ‘showings’,  followed  by  a  ‘feedback  circle’  in  which  the  artist   presenting  work  receives  feedback  from  other  artists  present.  Participants  offer  one  another   incisive  and  stimulating  critique  by  restricting  their  feedback  to  direct  observations  rather  than   directorial  suggestions.    In  doing  so,  they  support  the  integrity  and  intentionality  of  each  other’s   creative  agency.    As  a  practice  of  observing  and  speaking  about  what  an  art  work  simply  is,  rather   than  what  one  thinks  it  should  be,  Fieldwork  strengthens  one’s  ability  to  give  and  receive  honest   critical  commentary.         According  to  Diane  Vivona,  a  Fieldwork  facilitator  and  former  Executive  Director  of  The  Field,   “…Fieldwork  is  like  a  guideline  to  living.    It  is  all  about  communication  and  listening  to  people  and   being  very  specific  about  things...”  Fieldwork  is  first  and  foremost  a  creative  process,  but  an   implicit,  secondary  outcome  is  that  workshop  participants  relate  to  each  other  with  empathy  as  a   result  of  the  trust  that  is  built  up  in  the  process.    The  Fieldwork  methodology  could  be  adapted  as  a   follow-­‐up  component  to  role-­‐play  training  to  serve  mediators  in  training,  or  for  advanced   mediators  who  wish  to  meet  together  in  a  practice  group.    What  features  of  Fieldwork  are  salient   for  mediators  seeking  to  catalyze  and  deepen  empathy  within  their  work?       Giving  incisive  but  non-­‐directorial  feedback  after  a  role-­‐play  training  session  could  help  mediators   uncover  their  own  unconscious  habits  of  perception  and  bias,  and  practice  using  language  that   aims  for  directness  and  honesty  while  supporting  the  integrity,  intentionality  and  agency  of  others.     Receiving  honest,  keen,  non-­‐directorial  feedback  about  performance  in  a  role-­‐play  training  session   –  and  not  responding  to  it  in  the  moment  –  could  help  mediators  attend  to  their  own  sensorial  and   cognitive  experience  of  vulnerability  and  stay  present  to  the  discomfort  that  vulnerability  elicits.        
  • 5.   5     Case  Study  2  -­‐  Dorit  Cypis  on  “Open  Spiral  Animation”       Within  my  art  practice,  1983-­‐1995,  I  developed  a  strategy  I  named  “Open  Spiral  Animation”   bridging  live  performance,  cinema  and  photography,  tapping  into  how  we  unconsciously   “represent”  our  experiences  through  pictures  culled  from  personal  experience  that  become   internalized  within  us.  I  came  to  recognize  this  process  as  a  powerful  shortcut  to  evoke  empathy  for   ourselves  that  can  nurture  our  capacity  to  empathize  with  others.  Over  the  years  not  only  have  I   used  this  process  to  create  performative  artworks  for  exhibition  internationally  at  museums  and  art   spaces,  but  also  as  a  teaching  tool  to  develop  insight  and  empathy  for  artists,  psychotherapists,  and   educators  throughout  the  United  States  and  Europe.  This  tool  has  shed  light  for  many  people  on   liminal  aspects  of  identity,  how  aspects  of  memory,  emotion,  family  and  history  are  internalized   seemingly  dormant  and  even  forgotten,  yet  invisibly  active  in  the  psyche,  silently  shaping  behavior.   Open  Spiral  Animation  is  a  mediative  process  that  can  inform  and  reveal  how  conflict  that  is   between  people  is  also  within  people.     Psycho-­‐Portraits,  1991-­‐1995  is  a  photographic  project  I  created  using  Open  Spiral  Animation.   Participants  are  invited  to  bring  photographs  they  find  compelling  (either  through  an  attraction  or  a   repulsion)  from  his/her  autobiography  and  from  the  public  domain.  Individual  photos  are  projected   from  one  of  three  projectors  to  superimpose  over  one  another  and  onto  a  floor  to  ceiling  cinema   screen.  As  projected  overlapping  light,  the  individual  images  are  obscured  until  the   participant/viewer  moves  their  body  between  the  projectors  and  the  screen.  Doing  so  casts  her/his   body  as  shadows  that  conceal  parts  of  some  projected  images  while  revealing  parts  of  others.  On   the  screen,  the  once  static  and  passive  images  now  are  fluidly  active  and  in  their  inter-­‐mutation   suggest  emotional  narratives.  In  this  way  the  viewer  becomes  an  actor  viscerally  entering  into  an   empathic  psychophysical  relationship  with  their  images.  Almost  immediately  the  viewer/actor   resonates  with  emotion,  recognizing  an  internalized  experience  coming  to  light.       Malka,  revealing  in  her  shadow  herself  as  child,  now  embedded  in  the  classic  photograph   The  Living  Dead  of  Buchenvald,  by  Margaret  Burke  White,  1945  
  • 6.   6       Robert,  revealing  in  his  shadow  the  renowned  opera  singer  Jesse  Norman,     now  embedded  within  him  as  a  child.       Greg,  revealing  in  his  shadow  a  wizard  from  the  cover  of  a  Parental  Advisory  music  CD,   now  obscuring  him  as  a  child.    
  • 7.   7   Case  Study  3  -­‐  Eva  Vander  Giessen  on  Playback  Theatre     Playback  Theatre,  founded  in  1975  by  Jonathan  Fox  and  Jo  Salas,  is  empathy  embodied.  In  Playback   participants  share  an  important  story  from  their  life,  which  an  ensemble  of  actors  then   spontaneously  bring  to  life  through  words,  movement  and  music.  The  story  is  mirrored  back  to  the   teller  evoking  an  empathic  response  often  deeper  than  a  conversation  about  the  story  might  elicit.   Playback  happens  in  school  classrooms,  church  basements,  hospital  hallways,  conference  rooms,   and  police  stations.       True  Story  Theater  in  Boston  in  2013,  photo  by  Jason  Jedrusiak   As  Charles  Villa-­‐Cicencio  writes,  “reconciliation  is  not  a  sudden  act  of  moral  insight.  It  is  a   relationship  that  places  dialogue  and  reciprocity  at  the  center  of  the  struggle  to  be  fully  human,   suggesting  that  people  are  incomplete  to  the  extent  that  they  are  alienated  from  one  another.”   [“The  Art  of  Reconciliation.”  Life  &  Peace  Institute.  2002]  Playback  builds  a  bridge  between  people   by  re-­‐humanizing  those  involved  in  conflict,  giving  dignity  to  our  internal  struggles,  and  accessing   the  richness  of  our  sensorial  experience  through  evocative  performance.  Playback  strengthens  the   elicitive  approach  of  mediation  by  coaxing  out  the  unspoken  narratives  that  underpin  conflict.   Playback  builds  sensorial  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  personal  stories,  as  in  Narrative  Mediation,  which   looks  for  patterns  of  repetition  in  a  party’s  story  and  guides  a  shift  of  the  story  to  one  of  non-­‐ victimhood.  What  is  different  about  Playback  is  a  sensorial  understanding  of  the  story  –  and  the   recognition  of  the  story  “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  our  sensorial   understanding  of  the  teller  –  and  reveals  our  own  and  others’  perceptions  and  resulting  aesthetics   in  visceral  “ah-­‐ha”  moments.  Playback  ignites  both  the  sensorial  and  cognitive  aspects  of  empathy   by  inviting  audience  members  to  reflect  on  common  themes  and  their  own  responses  after   witnessing  a  story,  then  playing  back  these  personal  insights.  Building  on  Narrative  Mediation,   Playback  allows  us  to  create  a  mutually  positive  narrative  that  does  not  exclude  conflict,  rather   places  conflict  within  the  context  of  a  humanizing  relationship.       Playback  is  now  used  in  50  countries  for  conflict  transformation,  community  building,  and  social   change.  The  Centre  for  Playback  Theatre  offers  is  an  international  training  and  research  resource,   and  Playback  North  America  connects  practitioners  and  allies  across  the  continent.     Visit  (International)  or  (North  America).    
  • 8.   8     Part  Three:  Further  Discussion:  What  is  left  unsaid?     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  present”?  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  /  ‘narrative  listening’   • Mind/body  are  inherently  connected   • Sensorial  experience  informs  cognitive  reflection   • Recognize  your  internal  patterns  and  bias   • Equal  attention  to  form  as  to  content   • Patience  /  understand  that  things  take  time     We  will  begin  a  comment  thread  and  ask  for  those  inspired  to  post  their  own  reflections  on  this   theme.  Finally,  we  offer  one  question:  What  is  one  risk  you  could  take  in  your  practice  to  cultivate   awareness  and  deepen  empathy?       *  More  information  on  this  topic:     Leaving  the  Movie  Theater,  Roland  Barthes­‐the-­‐Movie-­‐Theater-­‐Barthes   On  Love,  Empathy,  and  Pleasure  in  the  Age  of  Neoliberalism­‐love-­‐empathy-­‐and-­‐pleasure-­‐in-­‐the-­‐age-­‐of-­‐neoliberalism/     Borderlands,  Poland;view=fulltext     Playback  Theater  (North  America)  (International).     The  American  Slavery  Project!page2/cjg9     Ping  Chong­‐elements/     Exit12     Los  Angeles  Poverty  Department­‐lapd/index.php           Lygia  Clark