Empathy Day 2019
For the Empathy Day 2019 blog tour I was asked to write a short blog post to be posted on the SLA website.
The thing about empathy is that it is something that seems so easy, but which is actually so very hard. The idea of empathy is so wonderful, and so alluring - to feel for others, to place oneself in their shoes - but it is not as easy to pull off as you’d think. People have to learn empathy, and once learnt, they have to work on it every day. In a world such as this, in times such as these, empathy is being erased in favour of reaction and hatred and fear. It is so much easier to unthinkingly hate or dismiss others, than it is to empathise with them. That’s why books (and other media) that encourage empathy are so important, particularly for children. When a person is in the habit of empathising from a young age, they keep it up, practicing empathy becomes second nature, and the world is better for it.
From the very beginning, writing Rising Stars was an exercise in fostering empathy. As I wrote my poems for the collection, there was no doubt in my mind that this was not just a book that aimed to make children love themselves, but to love others, too - to embrace and appreciate everyone, despite their differences. Common flashpoints among less empathetic adults, such as people speaking different languages, or practicing different religions, are included and embraced within the poems. There is no shying away from the things that make us different, or the fears that we have over our differences, however. This is a collection which revels in difference, from the choice of poets all the way through to the finished poems, Rising Stars is a book about diversity, equality, and respect.
The hope is, that by encouraging children to read books that foster empathy, they will go forward to create a kinder world. A world where empathy is not an aim to be strived towards, but a part of everyday life, as unremarkable to those who’ve grown up with it as the ground beneath their feet. Something expected. Something that has always been there. Something they couldn’t fathom living without.
We joked, some of the other authors in this collection, and I, that we were going to “Catch ‘em young, keep ‘em kind”, and simplistic as that is, is it not the aim? There is no-one kinder than a child who has not yet learned hatred, or judgement - for these things, just like empathy, must be taught, and learned. Unfortunately we live in a society that sets to, industriously teaching such things from the moment a person is born. To teach empathy is to counteract such things. To open up a different path in life. One that can only lead to greater love and kindness.
It is up to literature to lead the way to this kinder world. For countless generations books have been used to foster empathy, since the dawn of time, long before Dickens and his attempts to get the rich to empathise with the poor, writers have been creating works that allow people to see the world through the eyes of another - to empathise. This great tradition must not go to waste. In times of great cruelty, we must head in the opposite direction, and create art that is unutterably kind. Empathy is at the heart of that. It always will be.
Books are the most powerful things we have. If they can change just one mind, they can change the whole world.