Empathy is an important skill, which we should all strive to continue to develop. Colvin notes in his Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will that reading fiction provides an enjoyable means of building empathy. However, this benefit should only derive from reading certain types of fiction. For example reading Tom Clancy novels would probably not be beneficial. As clever, interesting, and thrilling as they are, the characters tend to be superficial. What is needed is fiction that has interesting characters that requires you to understand them, empathize with them, and understand why they interact with the other characters the way that they do. Most good literature contains such characters. And Shakespeare was not only a genius at using the English language, his characters are complex and interesting. Much of human nature captured in his plays is still relevant today.
I would think that writing this type of literature also would be beneficial. An interesting exercise would be to try to write some fiction regarding people you know. This might be helpful in understanding them better and being more able to empathize with them. Of course, you should be quite guarded regarding whom you might show your writing to. People might be offended or even start to believe that you are lying to them.
If you read the healthy memory blog post “Experimental Evaluation: A Key Theme in REDIRECT,” you’ll see how writing can be therapeutic. “Redirecting Personal Narratives” shows the general benefit about writing about yourself. So a variety of types of writing, not necessarily certain types of fiction, can be beneficial.
I would also think that watching certain movies can facilitate the development of empathy. I am not writing about action films or films loaded with special effects. Rather these would be films with interesting characters for whom you would develop empathy.
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