A couple weeks into the Live Lit class, the instructor took us out into the hallway where he set down four pieces of paper: two labeled "AGREE" and two labeled "DISAGREE." He put them in separate corners so that no one label would be too crowded. He then explained that he would give a statement, and we had either agree, or disagree. There was no middle ground. To add to it, he said that we also had to make a declarative statement on why we agreed, or disagreed.
It reminded me of that scene in Freedom Writers where the teacher puts down a line of tape in the middle of the room, has students stand on either side and then proceeds to read statements like "I have had a friend killed by gang violence" or "I have lost a family to gun fire." Those who have step to the center line. The point is to illustrate that regardless of race, gender, etc. we all share common experiences.
This declarative statement exercise was similar, but it also demonstrated something else: we are loath, hesitant, to have strong opinions. When we do have strong opinions, they exist on both sides. For example, one of the statements was "I believe in miracles." I do so I moved to "AGREE." The instructor asked me why, and I stated that if not for a miracle, I'd be dead. He moved to someone who stood on "DISAGREE" and he stated that his father was dead.
I had a moment where I remembered something about a person dying so another can live, or how the number of rays from the sun that peak out from a cloud signify the number of people who have died that day. I wondered about the difference between circumstance, and miracle. If I had been born at a different hospital, at a different time, would I have died instead?
The declarative statements to whether we AGREE or DISAGREE can also be revealing in terms of thought process and perception. One of the statements was along the lines of "Murder is justified" or "Murder is OK." There was the "eye for an eye" answer from someone who stood on DISAGREE. From the AGREE side, an answer was "eating a salad is murder." We laughed, the delivery was deadpan, but it also gave us pause.
The exercise was useful in learning how other people think, and how given a simple statement, we all interpret it differently.
Interpretation was the point, and the lesson was that audiences bring with them their own experiences, interpretations and viewpoints, whether they are aware of it or not.
The key, then, in telling a good story, is to take a universal experience and pepper it with your own.