The art of empathy

An observer might legitimately ask how I went from holding old foes in gross contempt to empathising with them, seeing the world from their perspective. For that, I largely credit my writing. In the first novel I ever wrote, I had two sets of characters: the good and the bad. In that first draft, there was no nuance in the world and no attempt to understand the other.

By the time I had shared my second draft a year later, all of the characters had become much less one-dimensional and much more real. One reviewer, who had read the initial version, picked up on this and queried why I now seemed to be expressing sympathy for characters who until then had few redeeming features. I tried to explain that perhaps those characters had reasons for behaving the way they did. But she just laughed and said, “No, some people are just bad.”

I’m not sure what she would make of my writing today. Every character is now much more human, with both foibles and flaws, and redeeming features. There is no good and bad; just people trying to do their best with the conditions they find themselves in. I suppose these encounters partly explain why I have felt the need to reach out to old acquaintances in an attempt to belatedly make peace over recent months. They too have become more real to me.

I can’t say that taking up writing as a hobby was a good decision. If I had been able to talk about things years ago, I’m certain I wouldn’t have carried traumas with me for so long. In truth, I think taking up writing was one of the worst things I could have done. But I’m stuck with it now. Writing has become too much a part of me, and so too all it pulls out of me.

As to all I could have spoken about: I never spoke about it to anyone. In the absence of wholesome conversations, I chose to understand the world through the medium of the written word. This adventure has carried me far from where I started. In my latest writing, a character once relegated to the periphery as arch-villain now enjoys centre stage as a complex protagonist, to me so relatable.

And so I imagine it to be in the real world. I envision all those I once knew to be no less nuanced. That’s why I no longer consider them bitter foes. That’s why, one day, I might consider hosting them for afternoon tea. Though perhaps that’s a piece of creative fiction which indicates my imagination has run away with me. Maybe I’ll just write that into a novel instead. Oh, look, I have already.

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