Have you ever had an encounter with someone and they were so unbelievably rude to you that after you walked away from the interaction you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Were you able to take a step back and think about the fact that maybe they just didn’t know any better? Or did you just automatically assume the worst about them? Most would have a hard time not being upset and angry, but Edward shows us a great example of how to act instead in Chapter 4. Today we’re exploring…
Gaining Empathy through Learning
Edward’s experience with the Christ’s Church/Christ’s Hospital boys in Chapter 4 demonstrates some of the worst treatment that Edward experiences throughout the story. He is mocked, made fun of, and abused by the boys. They even send their dogs to attack him. But after walking away from this horrible situation, Edward reflects on the whole interaction. He comes to the conclusion that the reason the boys were so cruel was because they lacked an education, and that “teachings out of books” would “soften their hearts”. So is it true? Can book learning really increase empathy in a person? Keep reading or watch the video below to explore what I found.
Reference in The Prince and the Pauper
“And now and then his mind reverted to his treatment by those rude Christ’s Hospital boys, and he said, “When I am king, they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books; for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved, and the heart … for learning softeneth the heart and breedeth gentleness and charity.” (p. 15)
What is empathy? How do we develop it?
Empathy is understanding how others feel and being compassionate towards them. There are MANY resources that list different ways we can actively develop empathy. Most people develop empathy as children, but even adults can still work toward being more empathetic.
According to one New York Times article, here are five ways you can develop empathy:
- Practice empathy
- Admit you’re biased
- Stand up for others
- Read books
- Raise empathetic kids
- Have hard conversations
Though I wasn’t able to find anything that specifically stated that learning in general makes you more empathetic, there were many lists that included reading. Two of these pieces of advice above (#4 and #5) involve reading. The author recommends reading and also reading to children as they are growing up as a powerful means of developing empathy.
How does reading help develop empathy?
Whether it is fiction or nonfiction reading, people can really learn empathy through books. First of all, reading introduces us to ways of life that are different from our own. We could be reading about someone from another country, culture, religion, time period, etc. All of those help to open our eyes to different lifestyles so that we can be exposed to new types of people.
Some stories go one step further than that. If a story is written in 1st person (told through the eyes of one of the characters). This allows us to truly enter the chracter’s mind. We can see not only what their lifestyle is like, but also how they are feeling throughout the course of the text. These types of stories truly increase our capacity to understand others’ thoughts and feelings.
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