I’ll start with a confession. I am utterly addicted to reading novels and have been since I was 9 years old. I am almost never without a novel to read, and when I have free time, I greedily devour more. My favorites include fantasy, science fiction, young adult fiction, novels about people in different cultures, and any novel with strong quirky characters, especially women, who overcome adversity and opposition to create a rich, transformative, life.
Novels Can Promote Empathy
So, as a devoted novel reader and mediator/conflict coach, I was delighted when I read a blog post on the Harvard Business Review Network by Ann Kreamer, called “The Business Case for Reading Novels.” In it, she cites a number of studies that show novel reading can stimulate empathy and increase our understanding of people who are different from us.
Why is empathy so important in communication and conflict resolution?
We each have our own story, our own history and narrative about our lives. But we often know little about the narrative and history of other people in our personal or professional lives. Even with people we feel close to, we operate far more from assumptions rather than genuine understanding.
Through empathy, we can reach beyond our limited perspectives.
But, the more we are able to reach beyond our own perspectives and, with imaginative empathy, gain insight into the challenges, grief, hopes, and perspectives, of others, the more we are building a foundation for authentic, and nourishing, communication. By inviting us to enter the inner world of someone from a different community, time period, culture or universe, novels can expand our vision and compassionate connectedness.
So when I am reading novels from now on, instead of feeling like a frivolous slacker, I will call it all empathy research and training. I encourage you to do the same.