Archives for posts with tag: empathy

shalottavatarA spark of transformation is making a connection between writing creative non-fiction and becoming more empathetic and socially responsible. These ideas come from writer and professor Camilla Gibb. This blog post is based on an interview with her.

Here’s Her View

  • Literature holds a mirror up to us, revealing something of our interior selves
  • It transports us to other worlds where we recognize the parallels in our very basic human struggles to create meaning and attachment in our lives
  • It reminds us of our common humanity across time & space
  • Fiction offers an immersive experience, not just intellectual, but a visceral and emotional point of contact, both with our own lives and the lives of others
  • Through imaginary leaps, we access another point of view. Is this an empathic act? Or can it cultivate greater empathy?

Here’s Why

  • Studies suggest reading literary fiction increases our understanding of the feelings of others
  • Neuroscientist Jamil Zaki’s recent study found that college students’ self-reported empathy  has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the last 10 years
  • Greater social isolation seems one likely suspect. But so does the decline in reading
  • The number of American adults who read literature for pleasure has sunk below 50% for the first time ever
  • The decrease occurred most sharply among university-age adults
  • Zaki’s study conflicts with studies that suggest empthy is a fixed trait people are born with
  • If empathy is malleable, we should be able to encourage more of it

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Creative Non-fiction Students

  • She insists her students read as much as they write
  • They look at making sense of their experiences largely by constructing a story of themselves
  • The narrative provides cohesion and meaning
  • The memory is subjective and selective but there’s probably social and psychological value in this
  • If we didn’t impose order on our experiences, we’d have difficulty finding any thematic continuity and cohesion
  • We’d struggle to communicate our experiences to others, a critical basis upon which relationships and community are built

How to Connect Your Writing with Social Justice

  • Trauma is the disruption of the narrative or our lives. We are the storytelling animal
  • Narrative plays a therapeutic role in reconstructing events in order to make sense out of them
  • A political role might be played when these reconstructions are shared
  • Witness literature, or testimonials are a way to begin uncomfortable conversations for purposes of redressing human rights abuses

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Social Justice Students

  • She uses witness literature, testimonials and novels as a means of connecting them with events far removed in time and space from their own life experiences
  • She hopes to equip them with  history, framework and language for interpreting global conflicts that occur in their own lifetime.

Professor Camilla Gibb is the June Callwood Professor in Social Justice at Victoria College, University of Toronto. The above interview is based on an interview with her in Vic Report Winter 2016. She will be speaking on “When Fiction Fails a Novelist” on April 20. www.icu.utoronto.ca./alumni/VWA

This is #4 in my series on Writing Secrets from Reclusive Lady of Shalott.

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The girl in this picture could have been Fiza Pathan, now a 25-year-old teacher and writer from Mumbai. Instead, today she is publishing  her novella Nirmala, The Mud Blossom on Kindle.

The cover of Fiza Pathan's new Kindle book

The cover of Fiza Pathan’s new Kindle book

Pathan just celebrated the first anniversary of Classics: Why We Should Encourage Our Children to Read Them.

Due largely to hard promotional work in the social media, it has been a great success during the year, selling hundreds of copies worldwide and engaging parents and children in choosing the classics that are just right for them. This can empower them individually and help save the world.

Nirmala, The Mud Blossom cries out on behalf of thousands of slum children who are abandoned to filth and poverty in the big cities of India. The scourges of prejudice against girls, communicable diseases, domestic brutality, hunger, infestations, street crimes and hatred scream for kindness, attention and reform.

Pathan’s own life story began with her mother being ordered by her father-in-law to remove herself and her baby girl from his house because she had not produced a male grandchild. Consolation for the little girl came from books in the school library where her mother left her while busy teaching. Today, when Pathan writes about books, she is talking about the living friends of her childhood, the dreams, the ambitions and the view of the world she formed when so young and sensitive.

From books, she discovered herself, particularly in the horror-filled, bloody Dracula. When Pathan shows a precocious mastery of many genres — fable, poetry, short story, novel, non fiction, essay — it is because she is at home with the best writers in all those genres. When she delves right into deep passions and bloody scenarios it is because that is where she is coming from. Her writing has a special quality; her works on Amazon are ‘must- reads.’

Like others before her (even the Angel Gabriel exhorted Muhammed to “Read!”), Pathan seeks to define the essence of reading and why the world must have it. She wants to engage other twenty-somethings and younger readers in saving the world through books and writing “a brave new story for mankind.”

I highly recommend Nirmala, The Mud Blossom as a compelling read. No one with a heart can come away from it without being changed. You will feel the pain and the love behind every word and image, Pathan identifies herself so strongly with her creations. You will have to give of yourself and no doubt end up being a more empathetic person, more likely to help save the world, for it.

As for my anniversary gift, it is a big bundle of love, congratulations and wishes for continued success in your writing, teaching and life, Fiza!

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!