Musings

Empathy

I remind myself of this whenever people don’t act the way I think they should. In the irritation of the moment, it is easy to forget that there is more to every situation than I might at first know. It goes along with my favorite quote from J.M. Barrie: “Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”

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The other day while spring-cleaning I came across my copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I read this book several years ago and really appreciated both the ideas shared by the author and the creative way he presented them. This isn’t a book review of the work, but rather a comment on a particular scene.

One of the stories Covey shared was an encounter he had riding the subway on a Sunday morning. At first the passengers were all quietly sitting or reading during their commute; then a father and his children climbed on the train. While the kids ran around rambunctiously, making a wild racket, the father did nothing to curb their behavior. They upset the other passengers. Covey remarked politely that the children were disrupting the other riders. The man responded, “Oh, you’re right . . . we just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

This is a powerful story, told simply, with a devastating conclusion. Covey had a way to connect with his audience and to help them move beyond the scope of their own experience. The readers first respond to the travelers. It is easy to visualize being in this situation where quiet introspection is disturbed by unwanted noise or behavior. Next we move toward the perspective of the husband/father, who is too emotionally numb to do much of anything except on autopilot. Finally readers will relate to the children, who are acting out because they cannot deal with the immensity of their loss. In the space of a few sentences readers run a gauntlet of emotions inside the lives of these characters.

As a writer, this short story of the passengers on a subway has stuck with me. Capturing all of this emotion—all of this drama—all of this context—in only a few sentences is, for me, the essence of short, speculative fiction. Although Covey wrote in the “self-help” genre, the techniques utilized here are powerful and could be applied to other genres. With this passage, Covey created a story that is strikingly memorable. Isn’t that what we are trying to do with our own stories?

As a reader, this passage has stuck with me for years. I remind myself of the story whenever people don’t act the way I think they should. In the irritation of the moment, it is easy to forget that there is more to every situation than I might at first know. It goes along with my favorite quote from J.M. Barrie: “Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments below.


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Praise for Heart & Mind:

“The author has managed to weave an intricate web about being true to yourself. One shouldn’t be guided or led by others. Above all, feel the magic in your own heart. As the fairy godmother believes sometimes it is best not to mess with destiny.” –Chief, USN Ret…VT Town—a Top 500 Reviewer on Amazon.com

Praise for The World In Front of Me:

“Picked up this short story because I noted it was previously published in Penumbra, which was a pretty high quality publication. And this story lived up to my expectations for a professional quality piece.

The story’s main idea reminded me a lot of the Lakeside community in Neil Gaimon’s American Gods, but I won’t say anymore about that for fear of giving away spoilers. But fans of Gaimon should really enjoy this story. Fans of strong women who make tough choices should enjoy this as well”—KSluss—Review on Amazon.com

Praise for Going Home:

“This is an excellent short story that is full of surprises for the reader. Martial law is about to be imposed in the colony.

A secret room, trips on a train and a clandestine meeting are all part of this superb short story.

Most highly recommended”—Off Grid . . . And Loving It—a Top 500 Reviewer on Amazon.com

Praise for Wonderland:

“The writing is beautiful, the characters are complex and thoroughly developed and the story is fascinating. All of it together creates a world you don’t want to leave when the book ends. I am so glad I discovered this author and I cannot wait for her next book”—Mary—Review on Amazon.com

Read excerpts from all of the books written by Chris Pavesic on Amazon.

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