"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive." -- James Baldwin
I call this blog "our stories, ourselves" because I hold that we and our stories are really one and the same. My story is your story, and yours is mine. We are intrinsically connected. I've also held for a long while, and most particularly in the last several years as we wend our way through our highly digitized landscape, that the very best way to instill a sense of connectedness and a sense of empathy in children is to give them books to read. By giving children stories to read, we give children safe passage into other peoples' lives, other peoples' minds, other peoples' feelings, and other peoples' experiences. It seems to me once we've done that, we've done something utterly invaluable--we've established some of the necessary and critical groundwork for our children to become engaged, caring, connected inhabitants of the world.
A Scientific American article from 2010, "What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic" (read it here), talks about the fact that studies have been done that prove empathy levels have been declining over the last thirty years. One theory as to why this might be so is that an increase in social isolation coincides with the drop in empathy. I'm no scientist, but I subscribe to this theory wholeheartedly as I see more and more people moving away from human interaction for the sake of digitized "friendship" and "connection"--and it worries me a great deal in terms of what's happening to us as a society.
So it brings me great relief and joy--not to mention a happy moment of "I knew it!"--to read an article in this week's Pacific Standard, "Your Brain on Story: Why Narratives Win Our Hearts and Minds," (read it here) which discusses scientifically proven direct links between the experience of story and a rise in empathy levels. Just look at this:
"Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate School, found that reading simple, humanistic stories changes what is in our blood streams. Taking blood samples of subjects before and after reading a story about a father and his terminally ill son, Zak found their blood levels contained an increase in cortisol and also oxytocin after reading the story. Called the human bonding or empathy chemical, oxytocin is also released by breastfeeding mothers."I've said it before and I'll say it again: We writers, poets, storytellers, illustrators, and artists of any kind have not only the vision to create and share the stories needed to nourish our children and, by extension, our society, but we have the absolute obligation to do so. If we don't, who else will? We have no time to lose.
(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC