“The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures,”–George Eliot
This month’s reading prompt for our Book-A-Month challenge is to read an opposite worldview. Intentionally find a book with characters or perspectives you know you won’t agree with and give it a chance. While it can be difficult read the ideas of someone who disagrees with or even disdains your beliefs and opinions, challenge yourself to put aside your biases and really hear what those authors have to say.
Our goal with this reading prompt isn’t to persuade ourselves of an opposing idea. Instead, we’re simply trying to lower the walls we build up between ourselves and those around us. To listen without feeling the need to interject and correct. Reading books with differing views offers us the chance to understand why others think the way they do. In the process, it teaches us to respect worldviews that conflict with our own. If we recognize the reasoning that leads others to their beliefs, we can better appreciate their perspectives, even while disagreeing with them.
By plunging us into the minds of characters and authors, books serve as a powerful training ground for empathy.
My college roommate, Sarah Hope, wrote an article for Write2Ignite a few months ago called “The Power of Reading Books You Hate.” She reminds us that while we might not agree with a particular book or author, someone else might. Someone sees themselves reflected in the character whose choices challenge or bother you. Someone relates to the message of that novel that you simply can’t get on board with. By stepping into the world of that book, you give yourself the opportunity to learn about people you may meet later on. People who you can now relate to better for having at least tried to comprehend the views they agree with.
If nothing else, reading books we disagree with forces us to see others as they are: as people.
Flawed people, just like us, trying to make sense of the world. At the end of the day, we all share basic experiences of pain and joy that connect us beyond our differences. We all weave together our worldviews as best we can from the knowledge and experiences we have. Sometimes we have gaps that have to be mended later; sometimes whole sections of our webs collapse and we have to rebuild.
And yes, often our beliefs conflict. Pieces of our worldviews cancel each other out so that both of us simply can’t be right. The earth can’t be both flat and round. Somewhere down the line, someone is wrong.
But empathy isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. Empathy is about recognizing that the person standing across from us has just as many reasons for believing in their worldview as we have for ours. Rather than judging others and thinking, “How could anyone believe such a thing,” empathy takes the time to honestly ask the question. “Why do you believe this?” Then empathy truly listens to the answer, hoping to learn, not contradict.
When we engage in dialogue with each other, we won’t always come to agree. But if we can train ourselves to learn empathy, we can accept our differences with grace. We can respect each other’s views. We can even entertain the strange possibility that we ourselves might be wrong from time to time.
So this month, intentionally pick up a story that will stretch you. Practice empathy with a book, because, quite frankly, you can’t argue with a book. You can only listen and digest what it has to say.