“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.” ―
Loving characters in a story is easy for most of us. We follow Sherlock Holmes and Watson as they solve crimes, and their escapades never fail to impress us. We cry over Rue and Prim in the Hunger Games; we’re charmed by Jane Austen’s Mr. Knightley and Mr. Darcy. Each of us have fictional characters we love and admire and even begrudgingly respect. We can’t help it.
These characters capture our attention and affection because we spend time walking in their shoes. We see them through the eyes of the people around them and through the eyes of their narrators. As we follow the heroes, sidekicks, and villains through their tales, we grow to care about them and what their futures might be. We learn to see the value of even the hardest-to-love people.
If we could come to real people with the same openness with which we come to books, perhaps we would learn see the value in others more easily.
So how can characters teach us to love well?
1: By Seeing From a New Perspective
As I hinted at above, one of the reasons we fall in love with book characters is because we see them from a different perspective.
Some characters we meet through the view of those near them or from the view of a narrator. Some we get to meet through their own voice, seeing the world through their eyes. However the story is written, we meet the characters through the book’s words. As a result, we’re forced to enter the perspective of another before we make our own judgements.
By the time we finish reading, our views have been influenced by the character’s goals and motivations, by the way the author treats him, and by the way other characters interact with the person of interest. Our first impression involves gathering so much information that our prejudices usually take a backseat without much effort.
Our perspective is secondary. The perspective of the book comes first.
One of the greatest difficulties in loving the people around us is surmounting our own biases. Sometimes we need to let go of our initial impressions and learn to see others from a different angle. To hear their stories from their view. To see them through the eyes of those who already love them. Sometimes we need to let our perspective be secondary and wait to make our judgements until after we’ve learned more about the people before us.
2. By Finding Common Ground
Another factor that often plays into our affection for book characters is common ground. A character will do something that we could see ourselves doing, or they’ll exhibit a trait that’s important to us. And so we find ourselves in these characters. We feel a bond between us and the fictional figures who share our values, strengths, or hardships.
When we read books and find characters we connect with, we often look for more similarities. We seek out resemblances between us and figures like Katniss Everdeen or Sam Gamgee, claiming them as kindred spirits. The more we search for commonalities, the easier they are to find.
In the same way, what we look for in the people around us is what we’ll find in them. If our eyes our peeled for differences, then differences will be all we see. I could make a list longer than I am tall of reasons I’m nothing like my sisters. On the other hand, I can make a list equally long of the ways my sisters and I are alike.
When we meet people on the street, the differences might be more obvious than the similarities. But if we take the time to seek out the common ground, we’ll find it. Just by virtue of being human, we each have something in common with the person beside us. If we can learn to see everything that connects us, perhaps we would better appreciate the things that make us unique. And perhaps like Anne of Green Gables, we’d find a great many more kindred spirits in the world than we expected.
3. By Being Willing to Forgive and Accept
One thing I’ve noticed about our love for fictional characters is a prevalent willingness to forgive and accept a character’s faults. We forgive Sherlock his arrogance because of his brilliance, and his loyalty to Watson, and a number of other reasons. Katniss’s rough personality doesn’t stop us from caring about her; we love Sam Gamgee despite his mistrust of strangers. Maybe not everyone forgives every character, but many of us are willing to look past the flaws in fictional people and love them anyway. We love them because we recognize their mistakes as part of their humanity, and we see the goodness that rests alongside the mess.
How often do we look at the faults in others with the same willingness to forgive and accept? How often do we instead meet the worst of others with a refusal to see the best? Just as the characters we read about are proved human by their follies, so too is our humanity marked by imperfection. Every person we meet has faults, and we ourselves are the chiefs of sinners. The question isn’t whether the people around us are flawed. The question is whether they’re worth knowing anyway. I would contend that they are.
Why We Should Love Others?
Every person we meet is valuable.
Despite our shortcomings, we each bring to the world unique gifts and unique capacities for goodness. No person is irredeemable until he or she refuses redemption, and so it’s well-worth our time to love and love well the people around us. It’s worth our time to find the common ground between us and the stranger. It’s worth our time to hear the stories of our neighbors.
We should learn to love well because people are worth loving. That’s it. People matter. The more we invest in the stories of others, the more we realize how much people matter.
So this year, I challenge myself, and I challenge you, to see the people around you as people in a story. Let’s spend this year loving the characters in our lives as much as we care about the characters in books.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” –1 John 4:7-8