Friday, May 18, 2018

The Empathy Exams: Essays Paperback – April 1, 2014 by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press)

What really is empathy anyway? Can it be taught? Can humans really feel what its like to be in another person's skin, feel her suffering, and understand her pain? These are some of the questions explored by Leslie Jamison in her book: The Empathy Exams. Jamison uses examples from a cross section of stories from her own personal experiences and in doing so, she shows the reader, in addition to telling, what it is like to have empathy. With trauma comes detachment, with detachment a woman can learn to have empathy even for herself, and the person who she used to be. When Jamison speaks of her abortion, she stays detached, not drawing the reader into emotional discourse, but presents the cold hard facts of what it was like to be young, in love, and facing a life and death struggle alone. Her admission that she felt like she was killing another living thing growing inside of her is raw, and revealing a startling thought process that she had to learn to cope with. Jamison reveals changes in her attitude that would have impressed Louise L. Hay and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. without saying so, Jamison walks the reader through several anecdotes of her life revealing her capacity to change the way she thinks in order to survive, after a revealing inner dialog simulating, perhaps unintentionally, the seven stages of grief. Jamison's distorted thinking is examined when she tries to use magical thinking in trying to control how others perceive her, particularly the father of the child she chose to abort. Having been raised to believe and think her worth is based on how well she can make others love her, she evolves throughout her story in different periods of her life, and attempts to show empathy for men and women who run an impossible race, with no hope of doing more than setting personal goals. the suffering endured brings the reader to understand the correlation between a woman's internal struggle, and individual's personal struggles to tie together the experience of what its like to be human and have empathy for each other. Well done, Jamison, well done. I highly recommend this read.

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