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The timeless journey of words and empathy

Reading expands our intellectual horizons, creativity and critical thinking skills


Published : 21 Jul 2023 07:24 PM
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In the age of Netflix and social media, visual communication has become a powerful means of entertainment and connection. Nevertheless, the timeless quality of the written word still stands out and offers a powerful alternative to the constant bright lights of the digital world.

Reading is transformative because it builds empathy, and this is something both socially, psychologically and politically relevant. Without empathy, there would be no sense of compassion or community. Human society is based on the collective good of all its members, and this is where the importance of empathy comes into the picture.

According to cutting edge research by the BBC, ‘people who read novels appear to be better than average at reading other people’s emotions’. This highlights that reading makes people more aware of their own emotions and able to empathize with the emotional states of others, which is essential for developing empathy.

Although most fiction tends to be written in an introspective and even individualistic tone, reading fiction encourages others to view the world from another person’s perspective. In turn, perspective-taking is crucial to nurturing social bonds.

Therefore, reading can even help people form friendships and social connections. The social and psychological benefits of reading have already been elaborated on, but the political relevance of reading is also significant. 

For example, Maegan Donovan, a writer for Book Riot, argues that, ‘reading opinions contradictory to our own lends the opportunity to investigate the nuances of these positions and fine-tune our thoughts and proposals’.

Moreover, reading books can also make you more likely to become politically engaged. Drawing on Donovan’s ideas in a world shaped by “fake news”, it is important to understand the history and context of a certain issue so we can examine it more thoroughly.

Reading has made me more aware of the subtle interconnections between unrelated things, and how new inventions and technology build on past resources and software. There would be no iPhone 15 without the software used to build the original iPhone in 2007

If we read not just to be engaged but to educate 

ourselves about Climate Change, then perhaps

 we can mitigate its harms. It is for this reason

 that direct action centered around Climate 

Change has been influenced by environmentalist ideology

For instance, the misinformation on Twitter about vaccines and COVID led to many people contacting the disease. If ordinary citizens are more aware of the dangers of fake news and how it contributes to political confusion, they will be better prepared in the face of future challenges.

Ignite the Spark of Knowledge

Reading widens horizons by exposing the reader to cultures, societies and time periods they might never have engaged with before.

For instance, reading about the legacy of World War Two within a 21st century context helps reader not only learn about the past but compare it the present with the past. I, for one, love to reflect on my own experiences and analyze them against historical trends.

An interesting thing for any reader to do is to reflect on history, noticing how historical developments have contributed to the present state of the world. For example, how the rise of the internet in the 1990s contributed to the rise of the information economy.

Reading has made me more aware of the subtle interconnections between unrelated things, and how new inventions and technology build on past resources and software. There would be no iPhone 15 without the software used to build the original iPhone in 2007. But reading is not just about reflecting on the past. By uniting imagination with intuition, reading can also help people envision the future. Scientific advancements, as described in Brave New World suggest what the future can hold, from the rise of Big Pharma to commodified entertainment.

In turn, these scientific advancements help inventors create new inventions by fueling the imaginations of creative people. Even without an inventive bent of mind, thinking about the future can help readers improve their critical thinking skills and reconsider the direction the world is moving in.

Political Impact of Reading

Eco-critical literature has actually anticipated the rise of the Climate Crisis. For example, Barbara Kingsolver’s environmental fiction overlaps with non-fiction books mapping the Anthropocene.

If we read not just to be engaged but to educate ourselves about Climate Change, then perhaps we can mitigate its harms. It is for this reason that direct action centered around Climate Change has been influenced by environmentalist ideology. So, Extinction Rebellion’s tactics are the direct result of the organization’s immersion in cutting-edge scientific discourse about Climate Change. It is the evidence, as demonstrated by contemporary environmental non-fiction, that spurs organizations like Extinction Rebellion to take direct action.

Indeed, Extinction Rebellion knows how urgent the Climate Crisis is, precisely because the science is on its side and it is well-informed about recent environmental developments regarding environmentalism and industrial civilization. Overall, there are powerful reasons to read more. Reading is beneficial as it expands intellectual horizons, creativity, critical thinking skills, empathy and political awareness. Without knowledge, people are more fearful and unwilling to meet life’s complexities head on. So, reading can transform the world by igniting the spark of knowledge.


Nibras graduated with a degree in Politics and International Relations from Cardiff University. Her debut poetry book, ‘Postcolonial Metaphysics’ was published this year with Austin Macauley UK. 

Source: Gulf News