Gaining Empathy Through Narrative

by | Nov 5, 2021

Written by: Mary Broding

How far did you travel during the pandemic? Me, I travelled to Irvine twice. That’s it, San Diego to Irvine two times. Typically, I would have visited friends in multiple states and traveled to Massachusetts to check out the colleges my daughter was eyeing to attend in the Fall of 2021. Not being able to was a massive let down. 

Like many of you, I found myself turning to streaming services and books for comfort. What I didn’t realize until recently was how much I leaned on television series and books that mirrored what is happening in our country and the world today. I started watching the X-Men Animated Series with my eight-year-old son on Disney Plus. I watched this series in the 90s as a kid and absolutely loved it. Saturday morning cartoons, if you know what a huge thing that was, always involved watching this series. My son started picking up on parallels between the oppression of mutants in the series and the oppression of minority groups in the United States, which he has learned much about in the course of the past year. This resulted in some frank conversations about racism, and I saw his empathy blossom. I saw the same result when we watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, aptly renamed Captain America and the Winter Soldier at the end of the series. 

Turning to books, I found myself with a pile of them after my grandmother passed away in October of 2020. She lived until the age of 97 and was a voracious reader until the end. That passion for reading is something we always shared, and I passed up any offer of possessions from her house except for books. The first book I picked up from that pile was The Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston. I was immediately swept away by her seamless joining of her mother’s life in China and her life as a first generation American. I was immediately transported into this combined world and saw things through the author’s eyes, giving me pause in the light of the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans in this country. 

So as you prepare for your SAT and ACT and read books assigned to you in your high school English classes, look beyond the task to the heart of the narrative. Consider what it says about the world and your own connection to it. These narratives hold more power to connect and heal than we often give them credit for.