“…The more there are who would say ‘ours,’/ so much the greater is the good possessed/ be each–so much more love burns in that cloister”(Dante, Purgatorio. XV. line: 55-57).

As I was reading Nussbaum’s article “Cultivating Imagination: Literature and the Arts” I could not help but think of Jeremy Rifkin’s RSA video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g) on “Cultivating Empathy” as both of these scholars look at the ability to empathize in society as a measure of a good society.

Rifkin relates a study in which scientist found that all human’s brains are soft-wired with “mirror neurons”– that is to say that if I see someone angry, sad, or going through whatever emotions, the neurons in the brain that control the emotion will fire in my brain as I watch the emotion in someone else. My neuron will mirror the neurons merely from observation.

Nussbaum’s claim then that “Children…are born with rudimentary capacity for sympathy and concern” (96), there is science to back her up, and more so than just Winnicott’s observations.

As an aside, Rifkin believes that empathy must be nourished; that we must build an “empathic civilization” which is not to say utopia, but a society in which we can build solidarity with not just one another but with all animals on this earth. Rifkin looks at how empathy has grown with technology. When humans were hunter gathers, empathy extended only to within tribes and the tribe on the other side of the mountain was an “alien other,” but with globalization, our tribe now encompasses the entire globe. And it seems that the way to create the empathic civilization that Rifkin is discussing would be through the arts, the way Nussbaum is suggesting.

I believe the correlation here between Rifkin and what Nussbaum points out when looking at Ellison’s ideas for his novel are informative for how to build a empathetic community: Rifkin says that humans are soft wired to feel what the other is feeling, and Ellison points out that his novel help us see the relationship with people we encounter everyday (Nussbaum 107). As Tagore is suggesting, as Rifkin is hoping for, as Nussbaum is analyzing– humans are wired to be sympathetic and a way to tap into that sympathy is through the arts and imagination. I am in complete agreement with Nussbaum when she mentions the arts as a way to teach children about “cultural blindspots” (108). As Nussbaum goes on to give examples of arts affecting young people (Chicago Chior, implementing art to psychotherapy, etc), it seems amazing that more schools are not doing this.

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