Empathy

I have a distant memory of a counsellor explaining that finger puppets could be used in therapy to help a person understand and accept different aspects of their personality. It must have been when I was training or practising as an occupational therapist. I don’t know how this therapy was to be practiced or whether or not it was successful, but it came back to me as I thought about the writing process.

Both reading and writing take us on a journey of self-awareness. Like many writers, I have kept a journal for most of my life, from my diary entries as an angst teenager to recent reflections and meditations on life.  

As writers we create characters and dig deep to capture emotional memories so that we can make these fictional characters and what they are experiencing believable. We ask questions of our characters, curiously delving into their inner worlds. They sometimes behave in unpredictable ways that surprise us. My characters took over and led me in another direction, a writer is often heard to say. 

This takes me back to the finger puppets. I think that every character we create carries a little of us. The parts of ourselves we are comfortable with, as well as the parts we deny or fear. In storytelling, we have the opportunity to explore how our characters react in different situations. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered myself crying as I wrote a scene. I realised then that I had learnt how to express real emotion on the page.

Maybe it is because I have spent my whole career listening to adults who have felt excluded or misunderstood that I have tried hard to put myself in their shoes and understand something of their life experience. Writing from the perspective of characters who have a different experience of life, helps me to develop more empathy. In gaining a greater understanding of others, we gain more self-awareness. 

As readers we are transported into the inner world of a protagonist. The experiences of these fictional characters may trigger emotional memory or make us question our beliefs. I believe that reading makes us more empathetic. A few books in particular have increased my awareness and understanding of life from a different perspective. Although I read it several years ago Lori Larsens, story about conjoined twins Rose and Ruby The Girls has stayed with me. It challenged my assumptions about what life might be like for a conjoined twin.

There have been a number of books in recent years from the perspective of people on the autistic spectrum, including Mark Haddon’s, The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Result. Although people who are on the autistic spectrum will all have very different experiences, these stories have gone some way to increasing reader’s understanding and awareness. 

Recently, I enjoyed reading the first book in Roz White’s Sisterhood series. This novel about the experiences of five very different transgender women moved me and opened my eyes to what a life lived as a transgender woman might feel like. Next week I am interviewing the author Roz White to find out about her experience as a transgender author.

Published by Deborah Kleé Author

Author of The Borrowed Boy. Blogger on the inner journey of the creative. Passionate about social justice, wellbeing and the benefits of meditation and yoga.

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