When was the last time you read a novel that had you gripped? What was it about the story that captivated you? Sometimes in my workshops, I’ll ask that question and divide the audience into pairs. I’m always amazed at the energy levels in the room go through the roof. People relive their favorite novels once again and the joy on their faces is palpable.
One of the things that the pandemic allowed me to do was be more consistent in reading novels. Prior to now, I’ve always let so many other things get in the way but I made a commitment to spend more time reading and less time bingeing on Netflix series.
To my delight I got through quite a few novels. My favorite was one I bought because I was intrigued by the title, Sharks in the Time of Saviors. The debut novel written by Kawai Strong Washburn is wonderful and unique family saga. The story begins in Hawaii where 7-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard on a cruise. Suddenly a group of sharks appears in the water and everyone fears the worst. However, miraculously, he is delivered to his mother in the jaws of one of the sharks.
And so begins a roller coaster of a story which deals with themes of family, poverty, spirituality, and heritage. It also has a powerful emotional impact on me. As read it, I know I felt fear, terror, resentment, contempt, jealousy, compassion, mystery, anger, and joy to name a few emotions.
Reading fiction, apart from being and enjoyable experience, has also been shown to help in the development of empathy and emotional literacy. There are two main reasons for this.
1. Who and Where?
Stories have the power to put you in the shoes of other people who we otherwise might not understand. Think about it. When you enter into the world of another person, you begin to see reality with different eyes and are forced to understand choices that you yourself might not have made but make sense from another’s perspective.
Stories also bring us to other places in the world and expose us to different cultures which again widen the lens of our perspective.
2. Flight Simulator
We now know from research in neuroscience that when we hear or read stories, we aren’t just listening to something outside of us but rather, we begin to insert ourselves into the stories themselves and our brain begins to react as if the story is happening to us. Powerful stories can evoke emotions within us and that is why they are so memorable and gripping.
For this week’s EQ workout, I wanted to use this research to help us grow our level of empathy and emotional literacy. It requires us taking some time to read a novel that interests you. After reading the novel, there are a number of questions which will help you explore its impact in you especially in the emotionally domain. This can also be fun to do in pairs or in a group. You may find that while two people may read the same story, their emotional reactions to it may be entirely different.
You may also like this YouTube video I recently recorded which explores how to increase your level of empathy.