Form pairs or small groups of no more than four people.
Explain that you will soon announce a series of four short questions and you would like each person to contemplate and share their responses with a partner or small group.
When ready, ask the first question: Who are you?
Allow ample time for reflection, sharing and conversation.
Ask the second question: What are you? and allow time for sharing.
Ask the third question: Where are you? and allow time for sharing.
Ask the fourth question: Why are you? and allow time for sharing.
In conclusion, invite one or more people to share what they discovered with the large group.
How To Play Narrative
This very simple, yet powerful exercise is not for every group, nor every program. It invites people to think about themselves quite deeply which is a very powerful journey, but you may expect some people in your group to struggle to look for answers.
The thrust of this contemplative activity is to ask a series of four questions and invite people to share their answers with a small number of others.
Its true value is acknowledged in the thought that we often limit ourselves with brief introductions such as I am a student, athlete, teacher, a father etc. This activity introduces the idea that we are more than what is assigned to us by others.
First, divide your group into pairs or small groups of not more than 4 people.
Given the deeply reflective nature of this exercise, prepare your group accordingly and frame their experience in advance to set them up for success. Or, in other words, you are best not to introduce it directly after a very energetic activity.
When ready, announce that you will shortly pose a series of short questions and would like each person to share their response with those in their group/partnership.
Explain that you will allow ample time for contemplation and sharing, and then you will ask the next question, and so on.
The four questions are simply:
Who are you?
What are you?
Where are you?
Why are you?
I can not think of four more powerful questions to ask an individual.
With each question, encourage your group to go beyond its literal meaning.
For example, it is easy to name the city/town in which you are located when asked Where are you? But, when you sit in earnest enquiry, many more responses can be found to this question, such as ‘mid-life’ crisis, stale relationship, emerging leadership, etc.
You may need to gently encourage some people to dig deeper for more answers. In my experience, there is always more, we just need to give ourselves permission to see it.
Practical Leadership Tips
If possible, consider blending this exercise with opportunities for gentle play and movement to mix playfulness with deeper meaning.
Be aware that some people may struggle with this deeply reflective exercise if they are questioning their own identity.
Yes, in some ways, these questions are not out of place in a therapeutic program. But, this exercise is not advocating for therapy, just the opportunity for deep enquiry and that is typically a very good thing to experience.
You could integrate Deeper Why as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This activity introduces the idea that we are more than what is assigned to us by others, or our name, gender, age, etc, all concepts that we have no control over. When introduced to this enquiry as part of a mindful exercise, your group may begin to explore answers to the four questions that are more creative and purpose-driven. When people start answering with more thoughtful and deliberate answers it opens the door to much richer and deeper interactions. For example, responses to the question Who are you? may elicit I am a kind person, and Why are you? triggers answers such as I am here to love.
Micro-Macro: After each question has been explored in pairs/small groups, return your group’s focus to the whole group and invite one or more volunteers to share what they shared/discovered. Then pose the next question and return to the small groups, etc.
Greetings Combo: Combine this reflective exercise with Crosstown Connections where you invite each of the four sets of partners to tackle one of the four questions in the prescribed pattern.
DIY Questions: In advance, facilitate a discussion with your group to identify a set of four questions that your group would like to know the answers to about themselves. That is, what is a question you would like to know the answer to if you could ask everyone in the group?
Poetic Connection: Read a favourite poem of yours, such as Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, to frame this exercise to explore what connections your group could make to the activity.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Start with your group in one (Zoom) room and once briefed, allocate pairs or groups of no more than 4 people to smaller breakout rooms.
Preferably, choose to pose one question at a time before breaking into smaller groups. Then, once everyone returns to the primary room, pose the next question before returning to their smaller groups.
You Might Also Like...
Purposefully reflective experience for individuals.
Creative form of reflection for individuals & groups.
Paired Share Debrief
Simple, non-threatening strategy to invite sharing.
Useful Framing Ideas
On the face of it, this next exercise might be one of the most challenging activities you might ever tackle. It’s not scary, nor is there any danger of physical harm, but it may challenge you mentally and/or emotionally because it will invite you to go on a deep enquiry about yourself…
We all have the experience of being asked a series of mundane questions when we first meet strangers such as What do you do? and Where are you from? I’m planning to ask you a set of questions that are equally short, but your challenge – if you choose to accept – is to go beyond the typical responses…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after facilitating this deep enquiry conversation:
Did you find it difficult to answer the questions? Why?
Which question was the most difficult to answer? The easiest?
What did you notice about the responses from other people?