In my recent review of Noah Hawley’s novel Anthem, I touched on some powerful themes that the book explores, including mental health issues in youth, trauma’s lingering impacts, and the importance of human connection in healing societal rifts. These themes all relate to the vital quality of empathy. As Hawley’s dystopian tale suggests, practicing empathy may be key to overcoming polarization and creating a more just society. What can we learn from Anthem and other works about cultivating empathy in an age of division?
Look Beyond Labels
In Anthem, we see how Simon and his friends are written off due to their mental health struggles. The novel encourages us to look beyond labels or socioeconomic status to relate to others’ core humanity. Suspending judgment and listening without preconceived notions are central to empathy. It allows us to connect across lines of politics, race, gender, and more.
Open Up to Shared Vulnerability
By sharing stories of trauma and mental anguish, Anthem’s characters forge profound bonds. When we’re willing to be vulnerable, it often inspires others to open up. Relating to the struggles we all face as humans can dissolve barriers. Empathy thrives when we realize how much we have in common.
Take Collective Action
Simon’s band of youths succeeds through collaboration. The novel suggests that addressing systemic issues requires joint effort. While empathy begins interpersonally, we need collective action to achieve structural change. Movements unite when participants recognize their shared stake in justice.
Start from a Place of Compassion
Even when combating greed and corruption, Anthem’s heroes act from compassion, not anger. To build an empathetic society, we must approach even those responsible for harm humanely. Demonizing or dismissing whole groups hardens divisions. Leading with compassion, even in adversity, sets the tone for reconciliation.
The novel Anthem was a tough but deeply moving book for me. It has compelled me to make room for youth in my interactions with them both inside and outside of schools. The book was an emotional roller coaster for me, but the ending tied everything together. The book was ultimately about empathy. Empathy, like reading the book, is a difficult territory to navigate.
Empathy is powerful but difficult. It means overcoming innate biases, listening without judgment, identifying shared struggles, and having the courage to act collectively. Yet practicing radical empathy may be critical to healing deep societal rifts. What other lessons on empathy can we draw from art and literature? How might we each challenge ourselves to extend empathy more fully in a divided world?