Tag Archives: empathy

Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

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I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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Filed under cartoon review, commentary, compassion, Disney, humor, insight, inspiration, movie review, music, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Book Magic, the Empathy Spell

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I have long known that reading good books is the primary path to being a wizard.  There are many, many things you can learn from the magic contained in fiction books, but now there is also research that proves books can improve your empathetic skills.  Here is the article I found to suggest it is so;

http://blog.theliteracysite.com/fiction-readers/?utm_source=lit-twcfan&utm_medium=social-fb&utm_term=20160108&utm_content=link&utm_campaign=fiction-readers&origin=lit_twcfan_social_fb_link_fiction-readers_20160108

If you don’t feel energetic enough to actually go there and read that, let me summarize a bit.  When you read a good fiction story, you get to live for a while in another person’s skin… see the world through someone else’s eyes… and if it is intelligent, realistic, and complex enough, it rewires a bit of the part of your brain that tries to understand and make sense of perspectives that are new to you, not merely habits that you follow down muddy, well-worn paths on auto-pilot.  You get to practice understanding other people.  And the more you practice this with well-written, insightful material, the more empathetic you will become.  The article notes significantly that children reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series develop skill at compassion.  I can personally testify that as a middle school teacher, I saw that very thing happening as students in my nerd classes not only became more sensitive towards the gifted weirdos in their class because of Harry, but also became more understanding of the special education students, and other often-bullied minorities.  Harry Potter books are literally magic books.

Here are some other notable books and their magical powers;

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is taught in numerous middle schools and high schools across the country because teachers have instinctively realized how much it does to solve problems of racial and cultural tension in the school environment.  It tackles the unfairness of racism, the effects of extreme poverty, the possible side effects of too much religion, and it illustrates everything through the voice of a very intelligent young girl.  Learning hard lessons becomes practically painless.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is narrated by the angel of death.  It is set in Nazi Germany in the war years.  The central character is the daughter of a man arrested and executed as a communist.  She is forced to live with German foster parents who turn out to be very loving individuals, though they are enduring difficulties of their own.  They not only love and nurture her, they take in a young Jewish man who is fleeing the Gestapo and the work camps.  In the face of the constant threat of death, the main character learns to read both books and people, to care about others, and face the deaths of those she loves without fear.  This book makes beauty out of human ugliness and war, and love out of fear and death.  Very powerful magic, in my humble opinion.

So what am I saying in this Paffoonied post of books and magic?  Only this.  There is magic power to be gained from reading fiction books, especially well-written fiction books.  Try it for yourself.  You may accidentally turn yourself into a frog… or a little girl from Maycomb, Georgia in the 1930’s… but it will turn out to be very good magic.  Go ahead, try it.  I dare you.

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Filed under book reports, humor, magic, Paffooney

How to Reason With Stupid People

Okay, I know… I keep promising that I will never resort to insult humor, and then I go and write mean-spirited stuff about Donald Trump and other Republicans.   But I need to point out that as a middle school English teacher for 24 of my 31 teaching years, I had to talk to a lot of stupid.  And I am not being mean when I say that.  Unformed, immature minds are full of misinformation and wrong-way pig-headedness.  Those are both synonyms of “stupid”, aren’t they?  And I have the further disadvantage of being a freakishly high level of smart.  I have a lot of experience dealing with stupid.

HarkerAnd it often begins with, “Well, I know you are very, very smart, but I have common sense!”  That’s how the argument started this morning with my beloved wife.  When we are wrestling with financial and health and family problems, we always start with the assumption that I am completely wrong and headed for disaster.  An acceptable compromise is when the two of us talk it out for an hour, with me listening and agreeing and her laying on me a thick layer of sometimes-aromatic common-sense solutions.  We reach a compromise, by which we mean I accept that she is right and I am wrong.  And then we talk about the yes-buts.  “Yes, but have you thought about the consequences of that expense when it comes to the APR on your credit cards?”   “Yes, but if you talk to your boss that way, would she consider firing you?”  “Yes, but if you give that prized possession to our son as a gift of love, will he be resentful if you take it away again as a punishment for a minor error?”  Sometimes the common sense people have to be gently reminded that their simple solution might need to be looked at from the back side as well.  (Don’t get me wrong.  I am not calling my wife “stupid” here.  She is not.  And I am not looking to make a fatal mistake in my blog.)

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It helps when talking and reasoning with stupid people that they know you really love and respect them.  When I have to talk politics with my more Republican relatives, well, I have to be very reasonable and polite.  Some of them are clinging to toxic candidates that, if they elect them, are going to do the exact opposite of what is good for people in their socio-economic group.  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are intentionally playing on the fears and prejudices of people that are thinking with their “lizard brain” instead of their higher-level thinking functions.  It helps them to see that you care enough to explain things like “socialism” and “labor unions” and “taxes” in simple terms that help them to grasp that there is a good side to those things as well as a bad.

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A large part of the lives of stupid people is the pain and uncertainty that being a part of humanity brings to them.  So many of them have no idea of the value of what they do and who they are.  They are so caught up in the pain of being themselves that they never realize how much the world around them appreciates and loves them.  They don’t understand that being stupid is the common condition of mankind, and just because they are not as smart as God himself, it doesn’t make them bad.  Sometimes the only way to talk to stupid people is to stop thinking of them as stupid, and reassure them that you love them and you will do everything you can to help them.  If you say it and mean it, they will not be stupid people any more.

“And that is all I have to say about that…”  -Forrest Gump

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Filed under empathy, humor, Paffooney