How do young people learn empathy and sympathy?
Is it always mostly via encounters with real flesh and blood humans beings from many walks of life, or are there other equally important ways?
The philosopher, psychologist, and sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) contended that the human self is a totally social phenomenon in which self-image is wrought in a proactive way. As he puts it in his major work, Mind, Self and Society, it is created by “taking on the role of the other.”
As we interact with others, we assume their personas as our own—effectively trying on a variety of selves for size—and see if any of them, singly or in combination, might be a good fit for us.
I note in The Philosophy of Childing that our youngest are particularly adept at this:
Not only do children make it a habit of taking on the roles of “real” others, but they assume the role of imagined or fictional characters as well. Janet Wilde Astington at the Institute of Child Study is among leading developmental specialists who observe that pretend play, pretense, role play, are dual exercises by children in further cultivating empathy and in creating a satisfying self-image. It enables children to step in others’ shoes, experiment with alternative states of mind and well-being (or unwell being). It hones their ability to understand different sets of beliefs, values, and feelings.
It turns out that adults can take a similar route to empathy development. A study published in the October 2013 issue of the journal Science reports that those who read literary fiction perform at a significantly higher level on tests that gauge empathy, emotional intelligence, and social perception. They enter age-appropriate worlds of pretense, and emerge from the experience with a keener ability to connect in a more meaningful way with others, and themselves.
For adults, then, to create and sculpt new and improved selves on individual and societal scales, reading books — widely and deeply — is fundamental.
All the more disturbing that our President hates to read, loathes the written word if not distilled in a fashion that is laudatory of said President, preferably in a newspaper tabloid. Why, he used to even disguise his voice and call the press, pretending to be someone else, a PR person, and always for purposes of self-aggrandizement. While such practice might be good prep when a child, for an adult, they are disturbing antics.
Especially an adult who does not read. Who is adverse to reading, and makes no bones about it.
All the more lamentable, and eery, that our President loathes the written word in book form.
Oh, how I wish that was fake news.