Reading, Writing, Empathy, and Authenticity: Some Thoughts About a Literate Lifestyle

Play With Your Words Writing PromptsIn a June 2013 article, “A Terrifying Grace,” in Christianity Today, Mark Galli discusses the omniscience of God. Reflecting on the common human reaction to this, he writes:

Our entire inner life, our thoughts and desires, our feelings and imaginations, are known to God….The human resistance against such relentless observation can scarcely be broken. Every psychiatrist and confessor is familiar with the tremendous force of resistance in each personality against even trifling self-revelations. Nobody wants to be known, even when he realizes that his health and salvation depend upon such a knowledge. We do not even wish to be known by ourselves. We try to hide the depths of our souls from our own eyes. We refuse to be our own witness. How then can we stand the mirror in which nothing can be hidden?

I found this concept suprising. Yes, we put on our social faces for different occasions, but are we really so frightened to be known for who we are?  How is it that I differ from the average person in that I am not shackled by this fear? And why don’t the people I associate with seem to model it? Could it be because we are a bunch of reading and writing people who are simply fascinated with the human mind, relationships, and how it all works? Is a literate lifestyle a key to breaking free of this fear of being known for who we truly are?

Through reading, one aspect of a literate lifestyle, we come to know so many “people”–including both authors and the characters in their work. As we read, our knowledge of, evaluation of, affection for, and agreement or disagreement with them reveals a lot about us and helps us to extend empathy to others. Rather than seeking to stay hidden from myself, when I read, it is for a journey of exploration.

And writers, like myself and a number of my friends, take this openness to self-knowledge another step further. We need to craft believable characters. As a fiction writer, and a thinking human being, I find the study and theories of psychology fascinating. I read them with my characters in mind, but still must confess, I cannot resist reflection on how they apply to me and my life as well. Freewriting and journaling are likewise adventures into the self and into the soul.

Yes, I admit, I do not reveal all that I am to every person I meet. It is just not practical in terms of time and seems to me rather selfish and self-centered at best. However, I do strive to be honest and authentic in all I do.

And, of course, I write. On the page, or on the screen, I am only too aware that every word exposes what and who I am, whether I am initially conscious of it or not. So be it. That is a price I am willing to pay in order to live a literate lifestyle.

So here’s an encouragement to readers and writers: If we consider, and evaluate, and seek to understand ourselves and others, our lives can become gifts that encourage those who come in contact with us to do the same, to think about their own choices and actions, and those of the people around them, to consider what these thoughts and actions reveal about themselves and others, and to develop greater empathy for all.