Interview | A lection in Empathy with Michael Tennant, creator of the “Actually Curious” card game and owner of a creative agency in New York City

Credits: Michael Tennant

Is there anybody out there who might give us a hint concerning good ways to cope with the current state of the world – and of our minds? Get to know Michael Tennant, a 36-year-old New Yorker who founded Curiosity Lab, a socially conscious marketing agency in New York, in 2017. As an expert on empathy, Michael invented a card game inciting people to talk – about values, gratefulness, or goals, Actually Curious. In 2021, Michael’s goal is an Empathy Movement. A dialogue.

Card game “Actually Curious”. Credits: Michael Tennant

Michael, spreading empathy through workshops, talks, and bringing together people by a card game: Do you know how this helped people coping with the pandemic?

Michael Tennant: We do, because we are lucky to hear from our community often. From a COVID-19 and social distancing perspective, Actually Curious helps people to have a unique and interesting way to connect with their friends, family, lovers and co-workers virtually or within their small social-pods. The game has also been helping people to connect with themselves and strengthen their emotional awareness, resilience and bias consciousness. Our empathy movement, sadly, met its moment in 2020 and further in 2021 as partisan fervor and a history of racial trauma continues to divide the US. While there appears to be no end in sight, our game, our talks and workshops are stimulating interesting discussions and proactive actions toward strengthening the skills necessary to lead to lasting connection and healing.

Credits: Michael Tennant

In an article in the New York Times, you mentioned that you practice writing and journaling. Which role does it play as founder? And in private life?

Michael Tennant: Journaling is a crucial part of my morning routine. Seldomly, it can feel like a chore, but most times it’s my ultimate form of self-care.

I start out with a free form of writing where I commit to hand writing one full page in my journal with as minimum of a filter as possible. Always after writing the day’s date in the top left corner of the page, of course. And oftentimes with pauses of varying undefined lengths, to take the time necessary, to feel into and listen to my body, for any messages it’s meaning to send through my pen.

Michael Tennant
Michael with his journal. Credits: Michael Tennant

I find this exercise to be a way of connecting to my inner voice to find what’s exciting me or meaning to cause me stress. Next, I write into a separate journal, three-quarters of a page of appreciations; a series of sentences where I make note of things in my life that I’m grateful for. Followed by three to five goals, and three to five prioritized steps for achieving those goals that day. The entire routine can take anywhere from thirty-minutes to an hour to complete but I leave it feeling like I’ve given my mind and body a gift of play, while also exiting with an actionable plan for my most important priorities. I’m a firm believer that small strategic actions deliver exponential return, compared to many grand gestures coming out of shallow thought. This routine is a cornerstone to my sanity, endurance, happiness and success.

Credits: Mary-Beth Wells

Your favorite paper and pen for your writings?

Michael Tennant: I enjoy using a bullet Moleskin journal in the standard novel size, or the pocket size, because Moleskin tends to be ubiquitously available and has enough color ways to keep me coming back. I am constantly on the lookout, however, for new go-to journals, since I use so many of them, and like to support small and independent businesses. I enjoy picking up old journals and reviewing the hilarity and insanity that I produced. Lately I’ve been writing with a .05 point LePen Marvy Uchida pen. I love the smooth micro finish and quick dry to avoid smudging. Definitely worth looking up as a small treat to enhance your journaling practice.

The card deck. Credits: Mary-Beth Wells

Your favorite question in your card game – and your answer?

Picking a favorite question from Actually Curious is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. In the spirit of vulnerability I’ll answer honestly, it depends on the day!

These days my favorite question comes from the Actually Curious Culture edition, and it reads “Choose five musicians from history to make your ultimate super group.” And my answer… the Notorious BIG on lead vocals, D’Angelo on back-up vocals,  rhythm guitar and pretty much anywhere else we need him, John Lennon on lead guitar and vocals, Charley Mingus on bass, and Quincy Jones on drums and producing the album.

Michael Tennant
Credits: Mary-Beth Wells

Which are your plans for 2021?

Michael Tennant: In 2020, we sparked a movement around the game Actually Curious by asking powerful allies: businesses, nonprofits, thought leaders, influencers and everyday individuals to join a mission to spread empathy. In 2021 we’re taking that commitment a step further by reappropriating the term “1%” into a new, empowering meaning. Actually Curious hopes to get 1% of the US population to commit to advocacy for human rights in 2021. We are early in the movement and need as much support as we can get to get the momentum going. Visit to learn more about how you can support the movement.

I’ll spread the word! Good luck for that important project, Michael!

Credits: Michael Tennant

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