\ ˈEM-PƏ-THĒ \
THE ACTION OF UNDERSTANDING, BEING AWARE OF, BEING SENSITIVE TO, AND VICARIOUSLY EXPERIENCING THE FEELINGS, THOUGHTS, AND EXPERIENCE OF ANOTHER.
Storybook(ish) began in 2016 as a final project for a communications class while I was still a student at BYU-Idaho. I had just read Brené Brown’s I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t) and quickly became obsessed with her theories on empathy and connection. As a performing arts major, I was studying the importance of storytelling through various artistic modes. Almost immediately, I was looking for a correlation between storytelling and empathy. This class provided the perfect opportunity.
I recorded my first two interviews, one with my uncle Shawn (who I frequently disagree with but love to chat with anyway) and the other with my dear friend Monica (Who is so captivating she could make anybody believe just about anything.) I had a profound experience. I realized quickly that this project was much larger than a communications class, that it could turn into something really important.
So I let the project sweep me off my feet.
I started noticing patterns. All storytelling either intentionally or inadvertently promotes certain ideologies and values, and the creators wish to be understood. There are many tactics— idealization, mockery, fear-mongering— but in my experience, the most effective is connection. Those who are able to convert people to their understanding of the world must do more than articulate the logic behind their beliefs. They tell their story. The experiences they hold dear that shaped their beliefs. The impersonal approach takes out the mysterious but powerful element of humanity. It leads to hostility, harsh feelings, and disconnect.
In my personal life, Storybook(ish) raised some serious hell. Up to this point in my life, I was an incredibly faithful Mormon. I was attending BYU-Idaho, a university run by the church that is considered the second most conservative school in the united states, and while I considered myself a “free thinker,” I was deeply devoted to God as I understood Him, and my world-view was limited. My studies in empathy lead me to John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories. Dehlin’s podcast interviews people across the Mormon “Spectrum:” members who have left the church, members who believe in a less orthodox way, et cetera.
As the Church heavily discourages indulging in “Anti Mormon literature,” the narrative I had been told all my life was very incomplete. I realized that in order to empathize with those who didn’t think like me, I had to let this idea go. And when I did, it my life changed forever. I converted from the faith of my fathers to a doctrine of love and compassion. And then things got really exciting.
Being a non-literal believer while at a church University is difficult. My freedom of expression was limited due to a contract I signed pre-faith crisis, so I had to be careful what I said. This provided me the ideal environment for an exercise in empathy— I was surrounded by people I didn’t agree with and couldn’t shout my opinion back at them.
Then something even crazier happened. I never imagined when I began Storybook(ish) that just a few short months later we’d be hurtled into Trump-Era America. I watched people on both sides that I’d respected my entire life make incredibly hateful statements.
Suddenly, a discussion on empathy became relevant. Nobody could have predicted the faux-connection we see in the age of information. The false sense of security we get from our technology and media makes it easy to be empathy negligent. Storybook(ish) became a small representation of a crucial nation-wide conversation.
In this political and personal frenzy, I found that Storybook(ish) was turning into something I never intended it to be. The project became about content content content, marketing marketing marketing. The truth of the story gave way to the Ironically, I wanted so desperately to change the world, to convert people to empathy, that I lost touch with my own need for connection and compassion.
In 2015, John Dehlin was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for his exercise in empathy, for expressing doubts and respectfully addressing the issues he saw. Likewise, many people didn’t respond well to the project, particularly in my conservative educational setting. Many of my associates found some of the content inappropriate. The truth can hurt if you lack meaningful connection.
Because this project was impacting my life in ways I wasn’t prepared to handle, I pulled the plug. In the spring of 2017, I shut my budding project down abruptly.
In the months that followed, things changed pretty drastically for me. I didn’t end up going back to BYU-Idaho. I moved to Missoula, Montana to finish my undergrad there. I got of of Facebook. And Instagram. And Snapchat. I learned to value quiet and became a massive introvert. Overtime, I came to terms with my church school experience and moved forward.
I spent May of 2019 in Austria studying opera abroad. Once again, I found myself in a place where people didn’t think and act like me. I found myself grappling with what it meant to be an American, and constantly chatting with people who disagreed with me. I was shocked at how easy it was to calmly encourage others to tell their story, even if it landed them in a vastly different mindset than my own. And finally, sitting in Salzburg, Austria sipping tea and chatting with colleagues about socialism and science, I realized it was time to republish.
I’ve posted some of my favorites from the original series, but moving forward, Storybook(ish) will be much more simple. A story doesn’t have to be complete or perfectly packaged to be valuable. New episodes will concentrate on the belief that everyone is the way they are for a reason. That people are never stupid. That everyone has a lens with which they see the world, and each lens is valuable and worthy of our consideration, attention, and compassion. That everybody has a story. And I want to hear all of them.
Storybook(ish) is a portfolio of everything I have learned, and continue to learn, about how to have these conversations. I hope you can find something valuable here. Thank you so much for supporting the experiment.