Charles Melcher loves good stories so much that he’s made them his life’s work. He is the CEO of Melcher Media and is also the Founder and Director of The Future of StoryTelling (FoST), a community of people from media, technology, and communications who are exploring how storytelling is evolving in the digital age.
Melcher’s love for stories goes back to his childhood when his parents read to him. “I loved to lose myself in books, with their lush illustrations and endless possibilities for adventure—and I still do,” he says. But he struggled with dyslexia in first grade. “As the months went on, my shame and humiliation only grew. I became convinced that I was not just slow, but stupid.”
After being diagnosed, Melcher’s parents put him in reading classes and provided special tutors—but one person made the biggest difference. Her name was Mrs. Schultz, and she taught a special reading class at his school:
“We would go into her little office, which was no bigger than a closet, and we would sit there knee to knee. She would open up this glass jar full of sand that she’d brought back from the beach the week before and pour it out onto a little tray that she put in my lap. I would shake the tray so the sand would flatten, and then our lesson would begin. She would hold up a card with a letter B on it, and she’d say “B” and sound out “buh,” and I’d have to repeat it back to her: “B” and “buh.” Then I’d have to draw the letter B with my finger into this tray of sand. And then we would do the same with D, and so on.”
The young boy who struggled to read eventually grew up to become a publisher of books for clients such as Netflix, HBO, GE, Lexus, and Oprah Winfrey, including 30 New York Times bestsellers. He also created FoST, which believes that by bringing together very different types of ideas, disciplines, and people through stories, we can gain new insights and realize big breakthroughs. In addition to hosting an invitation-only annual summit that brings together the world’s most cutting-edge storytellers and brands, FoST also has a creative services arm, where decades after forming words in the sand, Melcher and his team are bringing stories off the page and into life through innovative forms of media for clients such as Apple, Microsoft, and NBCUniversal.
Here Melcher shares three books that have inspired him in his work to cultivate a culture of empathy and compassion through innovative storytelling:
I found Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, to be a refreshing and compelling look at the inner workings of the human mind, specifically at how our ingrained moral intuition informs our opinions and judgments of those different from ourselves. Haidt posits that the moral judgments we hold about each other do not come from reason––as we’d like to believe––but rather from intuition that is later compounded by rational thought. The key to bridging the social and political divides in our country lies in our ability to recognize where our judgments come from, and to learn to respect those that are fueled by a separate set of values. Only then can we see the humanity in one another.
Jose Antonio Vargas’s Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen is a poignant memoir about one man’s struggle to belong as an illegal immigrant. At the age of twelve, Vargas’s mother sent him from their home in the Philippines to live with her parents in the United States. It was only when Vargas applied for a driver’s permit years later that he learned his papers were fake. With an uncertain path to citizenship, Vargas shares his journey to create a life for himself in the country he has called home for more than two decades.
In our current political climate, emotions can run high, with vitriol and disrespect frequently overshadowing important dialogues. When this happens, I’m often reminded of the wisdom of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, in which Goleman discusses how self-awareness and self-management of emotions can have a radical impact on our personal and professional lives. I believe that if we’re able to apply these same principles to our political discourse and cultivate greater empathy for one another, then we’ll be able to return to a place of respect and mutual understanding.
Stand Together℠ partners with Charles Melcher through the Charles Koch Foundation’s Courageous Collaborations initiative.