Archive for September 11th, 2022

GC Myers- Viva Nox (The Vivid Night) sm

Viva Nox (The Vivid Night)— Now at the Principle Gallery

“I resent people who say writers write from experience. Writers don’t write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

…Writers write because they empathize with the general human condition”

Nikki Giovanni, Black Women Writers at Work (1983)

I’ve written here a number of times through the years about what I perceive as a decline in empathy among the people of this nation. I’ve been thinking about that lately as it becomes more and more evident in the cultural and political discourse taking place here. I think that this lack of empathy is a driving force in the conflict.

But what is empathy? It’s defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

In short, to imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

So, by definition, to have empathy you must possess some imagination in order to envision how others feel and cope. You have to put aside your own feelings and try to envision scenarios and reactions beyond your own experience.

Without imagination, you can only react to any situation based on your own experience and thus assume that all others would act in the same manner.

That’s projection, which is seeing the reaction to any situation only in the way you yourself would react.

I see this as a lack of imagination which leads to a deficit of empathy which leads to projection. If you can’t imagine how someone else might feel, it’s hard to have feelings for their plight.

Let’s use racism, in the form of white supremacy, as an example. Because this group of white people can’t imagine walking a mile in a person of color’s shoes and can’t fathom the prejudice and scorn they have felt in their lifetime, they can’t empathize with that person’s experience. Their limited imagination barely allows them to envision the scenario and, if so, only allows them to think of how they would react in similar circumstances.

And this causes fear within them because they know that the one overriding reaction they might have would be anger, a fury that would seek the ultimate retribution at every turn.

Pitchforks and torches. Gallows and guns.

They can only imagine themselves being attacked and persecuted if roles were reversed. Just as they would do and have done. They can’t imagine that there might be a form of forgiveness, a sense of live-and-let-live. They can’t imagine that most of those who they have wronged might only possess a desire to peacefully co-exist, to have a safe and simple life freed from being the subject of derision and prejudice.

To have equal opportunity, respect, and justice.

The life they themselves possess and don’t recognize. The life they somehow believe is being threatened by the mere thought that someone else should be entitled to the same, as though something was being taken from them.

This lack of imagination, in turn causes them to lash out in fear with even more prejudice because they believe (and fear) that if they become the minority, they will be treated in the same way that they have treated others in the past and continue to do so in the present.

Projection based on a lack of imagination and empathy.

I realize this might be an over-simplified example. Not much nuance. But many of the major disputes today — abortion rights, voting rights, gun laws, etc– can be viewed in this way because much has become a matter of being seen in terms of black and white with few gray areas of nuance. And it seems to me, from my perspective, that the difference between the two polarities is that one lacks imagination and empathy which leads them to project their own fears and biases on the other side.

They fear what they are.

Just my opinion. Maybe it is biased and without solutions. Probably no answers here unless saying “knock it off and use your imagination for once in your life” is an answer. Probably isn’t.

I just had to say it aloud or, at least, in the words of this blog. Empathy is an important element for me. As poet Nikki Giovanni points out at the top, empathy is key for creative writers as they deal with the human condition. I would add that this applies to all other creative fields, as well. Art often comes down to imagining an alternate reality beyond what is at hand, to seeing possibility beyond the here and now.

Beyond the self.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest on a Sunday morning. For me, it’s a lot to put out there in such an off-the-cuff manner. I might read it later and wonder what the hell I was thinking. I’ll worry about that later.

For this Sunday Morning music, I am featuring a song, Because the Night, that I think lines up well with the painting at the top. It also has a link between Bruce Springsteen, who wrote this song with Patti Smith who had a big hit with it, and the idea of empathy and imagination.

One thing I took from watching Springsteen’s one-man Broadway show is the idea of so much of the myth attached to him was imaginary. He plainly proclaimed that his world of desperate lovers, hot rod racers and hard luck losers was pretty much all imagined. He hadn’t experienced much, if any, of the things in his songs. But his vivid creative world was shaped by his ability to imagine and empathize with the plight of others.

The fact that his relating so closely with his characters struck so close to the bone for so many over the past fifty years is testament to the power of imagination and empathy.

Here’s Because the Night from Patti Smith from back in 1978.

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