Definition from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:
1 : the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2 : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thought, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner, also : the capacity for this
You could make a strong case that one of the main reasons people read literature is to learn about other people. It might be on a totally superficial level like learning what it's like to live in another country or what activities make up a person's day. But the stories that go beyond the surface and take us into the mind of another person, get us to feel what that person is feeling, is where the power of literature really lies. The stories that stick with me are the ones where I connected emotionally with the characters.
I'm focusing on empathy today as a wrap up to the instruction I've been doing the last couple of weeks about design thinking. (See last week's blog for more about this.)
Empathy is the first component in the design thinking process and is used in a way to generate a better understanding of a problem from the perspective of someone who is closely associated with that problem. One of the scenarios we used in the workshops was based around the picture book, Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. We wanted to have students get into the mindset of a refugee family who had lived through a horrific war and wanted to escape to another country, hoping for a better life but lose a great deal in trying to survive.
In one of the last sessions (Paula and I co-taught 15 sessions) a student directed us to the following YouTube video about the difference between empathy and sympathy which I really liked.
Take a look:
It really is about connecting to someone else on an deeper level.
I wanted to recommend some books that perhaps could be used to promote empathy in a classroom. But "Holy-Tons-of-Books, Batman!" almost any book could fall into this category. So this becomes super easy or incredibly difficult depending on how you look at it.
The following is a list of 10 titles that represent a range of stories that could be used in many different ways:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee : novel for secondary level
2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White : novel for middle grades
3. Moo by Sharon Creech : novel for elementary grades
4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio : novel for middle grades
5. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson : picture book
6. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig : picture book
7. Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaajte : picture book
8. Red: a Crayon's Story by Michael Hall : picture book
9. Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg : picture book
10. Ivan: the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate : picture book