March is Literacy Month in the world of Rotary, and there is an interesting article in this month’s The Rotarian magazine. It quotes cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley saying,
…reading more fiction enables you to understand other people better. Fiction is about exploring a range of circumstances and interactions and characters you’re likely to meet. Fiction is not a description of ordinary life; it’s a simulation.
Well, duh. Any writer could tell you that. My husband, who has a psychology degree, vets my characters and makes sure I am keeping consistent psychological profiles and responses. I write teen fantasy, mind you. Even those of us crafting fictional worlds do so with care.
Our worlds are crafted to give our readers an opportunity to explore another life, other responses, other realities.
I find it vaguely amusing that the professional business world may not have realised that there is a reason literature is in the curriculum. It would behove more of our leaders to pay close attention to the lessons of Orwell’s 1984, for example. A more well-read population should also be quicker to recognise the danger signs they’ve seen in literature. That’s why I’m a high school English teacher. Along side the history teachers, I aim to provide warnings and inspiration. To raise the next generation to see with clear eyes and communicate their vision with well-chosen words.
Later in the article they quote Oatley quoting Aristotle, “History…tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people.” He adds that fiction “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”
PS. It behoves me to mention that ‘behove’ is the British spelling of ‘behoove.’