Meet the wonderful Sue Hendra, who writes and illustrates the amazing Supertato books with her partner, Paul Linnet. I had the chance to ask her a few questions when were both working in Netley Marsh School on Empathy Day – 12th June.
We both had a great day telling stories to the children and talking about empathy and how to understand other points of view by reading books and inhabiting the characters
With Empathy Day coming up on the 12th June, I’m having thoughts about what exactly empathy is.
There is a kind of animal empathy which is the innate and learned understanding of facial expressions and body language. It’s an almost universal language.
Innate animal empathy allows us to look at that smiley face above and understand the emotion portrayed. You can probably look at this group of Apple Emoji and give a pretty good approximation of the emotion each one portrays.
No matter where you were in the world, if you couldn’t speak the language, You would know if someone was happy or sad, tired or despondent, tense or relaxed. This kind of empathy oils the daily process of rubber ing along with other human beings.
Then there is a deeper kind of empathy – more psychological – definitely a learned thing.
It’s not sympathy – Sympathy is a feeling and showing of concern and. Sympathy is born of empathy.
Empathy is not compassion either – Compassion is more practical. It is sympathy with action, to help from a more distant position.
Empathy is the the parent of both those emotions. Without empathy there would be no reason to get involved in anything.
Empathy is placing yourself inside the shoes of another and looking at the world through their eyes, dropping your beliefs and prejudices for a moment, and really trying to understand how someone else views the world you share.
At that point, you may alter your views and re-examine your beliefs. At that point you may choose to have sympathy or compassion. You don’t have to though.
Maybe understanding is a closer description?
Seeing the world through another’s eyes does not mean you have to be best friends or that you have to help or fundraise for them.
You may detest the person whose eyes you look through – Hitler… Stalin… Shipman, maybe? But by looking through their eyes, you may better understand how the world works and how you may defend yourself, your beliefs and your freedoms.
How best to see the world through other’s eyes? How to understand Hitler or Mother Theresa, the condemned man, the six year old child, the aged-aunt, the fluffy celebrity or a politician in free-fall?
Read a book.
Reading a book is like putting on a second skin – living in a different but similar world – wearing someone else’s shoes – looking out through someone else’s eyes.
Unlike another medium, you are at the centre of the story. You are looking out through the eyes of the protagonist. You are creating the scenery as you go along. You are creating an inner understanding of another person’s mind that will never go away.
Read a book – more than anything else, they are manuals to a deeper understanding of life.
Is World Book Day is out of control? I know some schools think so and are not going along with it anymore. Certainly parents are driven to distraction by it. The getting of costumes is now a regular joke in TV sitcoms.
World Book Day is supposed to promote literacy, but the costumes are often far removed from books. Supermarkets pile up costumes for WBD, knowing that frazzled parents will buy them to stop the kids nagging and not to lose face at the school gate. Never mind that the costume probably promotes a movie, sport or computer game.
When I’m asked to judge a fancy dress at a school, I immediately eliminate anything that has come from ASDA. The kids with amazing, shop-bought costumes look confused when I choose some kid wrapped up in bin bags and granny’s old hat. That’s what I call dressing up.
Image from the Birmingham Mail web post. Great Trump costume, but what is the book the child is celebrating – Fire and Fury or The Art of the Deal? Not Primary school books either way!
World Book Day is supposed to be about celebrating books and promoting literacy. Many children come dressed as footballers, superheroes, princesses in bridesmaid dresses or other famous movie or computer game characters, in off-the-shelf costumes. I’m always asking them, “Yes, but what book are you supposed to be?”
Schools – It’s okay to NOT dress up on World Book Day.
Leave dressing up to a special end of term dressing-up day or Halloween, when it doesn’t really matter what anyone dresses up as or how.
Celebrate the book on World Book Day, not football or Disney.