Well hello there! It’s been a while.
I have a Scavengers update on the way, but this is just a quick post to draw attention to Empathy Day, which took place on 11 June.
Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab, and is an annual celebration of empathy through reading, participated in nationally by publishers, authors, librarians, schools, prisons, and readers of all kinds.
EnpathyLab say it’s been proven through research that reading actively develops people’s ability to empathise.
This makes perfect sense to me. When you’re reading fiction you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – someone who may be a very different person to you, from a very different time or place, but who you can connect with on an emotional level because of everything that’s shared between us. We bleed the same blood. We feel the same feelings.
You only need to look around to see that we’re in serious need of more empathy. The people at the top have barely any connection with or understanding of the people lower down. Politics are falling to pieces. Division, hate, suffering and neglect are rife. Blind eyes are permanently turned. People are shouting at each other all over the internet. Knife crime is on the rise, to the point that first aid kits for knifing attacks are being installed around cities. It goes on and on.
So let’s try to relate a little more. Let’s try to connect emotionally. Let’s stop seeing people – even those we disagree with – as two-dimensional cartoons. Let’s try to see who they really are, where they’re coming from, why they think the way they do, what they have in common with us. No-one’s born with their opinions. If we try harder to empathise, perhaps others will do the same in return. Perhaps this might lead to better understanding – to dialogue, common ground and resolution. Imagine the possibilities.
I celebrated Empathy Day with Year 8 Pupils at South Nottinghamshire Academy. We had a discussion about what empathy is, particularly with regard to its distinction from sympathy, and in terms of the benefits developing empathy can have for individuals and for society as a whole. Then we discussed books that we feel are good for encouraging empathy.
Here are pupils’ notes on four books that were selected as being particularly good for exercising those empathy muscles:
There were so many other great recommendations, and I was really impressed by the pupils’ receptiveness to the session, and to their thoughtfulness and insight. They were a fantastic bunch. As always, I left a school feeling that little bit more optimistic about the future.
My personal recommendation was Momo by Michael Ende.
It’s not as famous as Ende’s The Neverending Story, but I think it should be.
To give a brief summary, its protagonist, a young homeless girl called Momo, has a very special super power. She can’t fly, and she can’t shoot lasers out of her eyes. She can’t even afford a cape. But she can listen. She takes her time to listen to people, silently and deeply. She listens and empathises, and by doing so helps people through their problems, or simply makes them feel better.
And then the men in grey appear. The grey men who take grownups’ time away for saving at the time bank, so that the grownups are always short of time and busy-busy-busy, grafting and toiling for goals that don’t bring real happiness, to the point of having no time to listen to each other – no time even to care, about others or about themselves.
Pretty apt, eh? Are there men in grey in your life?
Read. Have fun. Lose yourself in a character. Empathise.