Everyone’s proverbial pair of shoes

Empathy. It’s one of those things you have to work at; not everyone has it. And even those who have it do not always have it for everyone – not particularly by choice, but mostly because really isn’t easy to understand what you’ve never gone through or experienced.

Writing fiction, I need to have empathy for every character I create. I once wrote a book motivated entirely by my hatred towards a certain person who I made the villain in my story in the attempt to give the character a horrific end (yes, this really happened).  If you’ve read enough stories or watched enough films, you’ll know that good villains have to have a motive, a drive, and a reason for doing the things they do and cannot be evil just for the sake of filling a role. And so I gave my villain all of those. Needless to say, I couldn’t finish the book. The emotion that drove me to start it had disappeared. I had empathized my way into a block. And I had written my way into forgiveness.

I guess taking on the job of creating make-believe has benefits that extend far beyond the page. Some of the skills you eventually learn leak out into your own life and begin making changes there. I personally find it difficult to be antagonistic to anyone (except in extreme circumstances) because the first thing I do after someone causes offense is to imagine myself in their shoes and try to understand why they did what they did. And to no surprise, life is happier that way.