Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fiction & Empathy

I need to read more fiction!  I have been thinking that for some time now.

When people behave in a way that makes absolutely no sense to me, I think:  I gotta read more fiction

Real life behavior seems strange sometimes.  While others interpret a man's jealous and threatening behavior as "that's just a man in love," I'm more apt to perceive the behavior as "psychotic" or even "demon-possessed" because my conceptualization of love is that it is not controlling, demeaning, deceitful or cruel.  But when you have looked into the eyes of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Rodrigo, then you are just grateful to be alive and living well.

Well, it turns out that 'theory of mind' researchers find that reading serious fiction boosts one's ability to understand others, a precursor of empathy (check out LA Times article for more on this).

I read somewhere that writers are the best observers of human behavior.  So reading literary fiction isn't just about plot twists and turns, but the underlying motivations of human behavior.

Developing coherent narratives integrate both event details and associated feelings, in a structure with a beginning, middle and end, and lots of detail.  Even the most bizarre zig zags in a story make sense when you understand the context and human motivation.

I may need a tutor too.  In fact, when English teachers explained the meaning of a line in a poem - I understood the explanation but wondered, "how the hell did you get that from this??"  The leap seemed wholly mysterious to me, making a literary poem harder to figure out than an algebra problem (at least math is logical!).

I'm gonna read more fiction in 2014.  That oughta round out my education and help me understand myself and others better.  Unfortunately, the pile of Hollywood gossip magazines in which I indulge while sitting at a bookstore don't count (although that was their draw for me - to better understand the machinations and drama of human relationships). 

The study about fiction and empathy clearly differentiates between the benefits of popular fiction and literary fiction (the latter wins).  I am open to reading suggestions if you've got some...

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