WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THOUGHTFUL READING OF LITERATURE?
After suffering a brain injury that led to seizures and cognitive changes, actor/screenwriter Jane Gauntlett perceived a disconnect between her doctors’ belief that she was doing well and the actual quality of her life. In response, she produced In My Shoes, a virtual-reality experience that gave her doctors a first-hand view of what Jane herself was undergoing. It was so successful that she now travels internationally, using virtual reality to demonstrate the disconnect that may exist between the perceptions of physician and patient. She has also embarked on a more wide-ranging project to use virtual reality to enhance empathy through shared experiences in a variety of contexts.
Literature offers a low-tech approach to the same goal, as readers become intimately acquainted with complex characters whose world view and experiences may differ significantly from their own. In addition to broadening their perspective by coming to understand what it’s like to think, feel, and act in different ways, members of literature discussion groups hear others express reactions that they themselves might not have thought of. In the neutral setting of such discussions, participants can speak openly about sensitive or controversial topics in the context of the literature, without necessarily revealing personal information about themselves or others.
For ideas on what to read or view, see SUGGESTED LITERARY FICTION, POETRY, DRAMA, NONFICTION, AND FILM