There is no better day than #EmpathyDay to talk about cultivating empathy through reading, and it is in that spirit that I invite you all to join in on Twitter the #ReadForEmpathy movement today June 11th 2019 and answer the call to action:
Empathy Day’s calls to action
READ – because stories and book characters build our real-life empathy
CONNECT – make new connections with people, inspired by sharing stories
DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your home and your community
And while you can browse through the Empathy Lab’s 2019 Read for Empathy Guide right here and choose a book to read in support of this special day and spread the word https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/b2f3fbc2/files/uploaded/EMPATHYLAB%20secondary%20GUIDE%20LandscapeA4%20web.pdf , let me introduce you Patrice Lawrence author of ‘Indigo Donut’ and contributor to ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ who shares a story encapsulating the meaning of empathy, one in many ways we can relate to.
Laughing, Loving, Struggling and Stressing
A couple of weeks ago, my teenage daughter called me in tears. She was on a very tight schedule and needed to get from one place to another, so decided to borrow my bike. Unfortunately, the gears slipped so no matter how hard she cycled, she barely made any progress. She ended up wheeling the bike along a major road, too late to get to her first appointment, crying in frustration.
You know that myth about Londoners being rude and uncaring? Well, at least two women stopped and asked if she was all right. One even offered to pay for an Uber to take her – and my bike – home. It was a powerful and necessary reminder that people do, indeed, care.
At the moment, my social media timelines are a constant reminder of how much hate there is. There are the moments that make the national news, violent and orchestrated homophobia, the ‘hostile environment’ policy, racist and transphobic abuse and the smaller, more intimate moments, such as the friend being greeted with a racist slur by a player on an online game. It feels that the world’s empathy is draining away. That’s why we need to nurture children’s sense of social justice, compassion and kindness in every way we can.
Books are key to promoting empathy. I grew up in the only multi-ethnic family in a cul de sac in Sussex. My neighbours were lovely, but I always felt that my house was different to that of my white friends. My mum and my not-yet-stepdad weren’t married, which was rare in those days. We were noisy. We usually had lodgers to help pay the mortgage. I used to worry about inviting friends round. However, it was a book that I loved that helped me, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind In The Willows. There’s a chapter where Mole is homesick and wants to return to his burrow, but he’s embarrassed about its shabbiness compared to Ratty’s home. The tender way that Ratty empathises and helps put together an impromptu feast as carol singers knock on the door, still brings a tear to my eye. Ratty let me know that good friends want the best for you.
A couple of years ago after a talk to Year 8s in London, I was asked if my books are shaped by my politics. I think that they probably are. After more than twenty years working for charities promoting social justice and equality, I know that there are so many stories that are not told, so many people whose lives are condensed to stereotypes. I knew that I wanted to tell them.
The character of Indigo in Indigo Donut was born out of rage. At the time of writing, young people in foster care had to leave their foster homes at the age of eighteen. The idea of evicting my own daughter at that age, regardless of whether she wanted to go, seemed cruel and unnecessary – so why do it to young people in care? I also knew that young people in long term care move from placement to placement, often in different parts of the country. How do you hold down a sense of identity and security when your ties to family and friends are continually stretched? Even keeping the same social worker must be rare as budgets are cut and permanent staff lost. How does it feel to have so little control over your life? I mean – heck – I’d be angry too.
Indigo has inherited some tough issues including a belief that she is filled with anger that means she can’t get emotionally close to people in case she hurts them. Her future could still be a challenge. But I also wanted her to be funny, loyal, compassionate and, naturally, with supremely excellent music taste. I wanted her to know that there are people who love her. I wanted to let her realise that she could be loved.
I also wanted readers to understand that beneath the myths and rumours and stereotypes, there are real people, laughing, loving, struggling and stressing. I wanted my readers to care.