Stories give readers the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings or difficulties. Stories encourage a person to step inside the shoes of another person. Once inside those shoes, questions arise: How does it feel? What would you do? Do you know what is the right thing to do? Does knowing what is the right thing to do, make it easier to then do it? Through the lived-through experience of the literary experience, readers make the essential connection between individuals and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. Literature stirs our emotions and makes us feel—in attempting to understand anyone, empathy counts for much. Reading and talking about stories with children encourage us to experience and think about what empathy really means.
Talking about empathy inside a story yields a richer conversation than having a universal conversation about empathy. Universal conversations only go so far, because they are about someone or someplace else and not personal. Here are some suggested conversation starters you can use when you are taking about empathy that gets away from the universal and closer to the personal.
~ Is thinking about a person’s well being the same thing as doing something about it?
~ Does empathy require action?
~ Do you have to like a person to have empathy for them?
~ Can you think of a situation when you put yourself in someone else’s
shoes? How did it change your perspective?
~ What would the world look like if nobody was able to have empathy for others?