2 Ways to Be More Empathetic | by Stefano Lia | May, 2024

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A few days ago, I listened to a lecture by Professor Alessandro Barbero, an Italian historian and writer, on the difference between Memory and History, which are often confused but different.

Take the day of April 25, 1945, known in Italy as Liberation Day from Fascism: every year we remember this event by celebrating the democratic society where we live. However, this is a partisan holiday. And it looks at the past from a partisan point of view.

If we looked at it from a fascist point of view, April 25th would not be a celebration day, but rather a sad day when the dream of the fascist Italy ended, defeated by the resistance.

Memories, or Memorial Days in general, take up only a nuance of the past by looking at it from only one point of view; whereas History describes a historical event from all points of view: from who won to who lost, what the people involved and even those not involved thought. In short, History is an immersion in the past.

Unfortunately, people confuse History and Memory more commonly than we think.

In Italy (but not only) Politicians use Memorial Days to drive people’s thoughts.

The (semi-fascist) government currently in Italy would not want to celebrate April 25 because it makes fascists look as the bad ones and partisans as the good ones. Memorial days create ideas in people about who is good or bad.

We can see this manipulation also in movies: in American movies it’s common to see Russians as the “enemy to defeat”; while Americans are the good guys who defend democracy and freedom.

This is the case also for an Italian famous movie: “La Vita è Bella” by Roberto Benigni. The film is about a Jewish family that is deported to a concentration camp that seems to be Auschwitz. However, at the end of the movie, the Americans free the prisoners, and not the Russians as History indicates. Why? Because American are the good ones.

Movies, Memorial Days, and Politics create ideas about who the good people are and who are not. However, in reality, human nature is very different. Doing so, Society disconnects us from who we are by creating this unrealistic division which simplifies something that is complicated.

We are nothing: we are neither good nor bad. We simply behave in a certain way. Sometimes we behave well, and sometimes we behave badly. We just need to define what is good and bad to judge our behavior, but how we behave doesn’t define us.

Being means that we are something that can’t be changed; Behaviour is a more fluid concept. We can always change our behavior, but we can’t change what we are.

The same superficiality we use to confuse Memory with History as we use it to confuse Being with Behavior.

How to fight this superficiality that is part of our nature? In my opinion, the most effective antidote is to become more empathetic. The more empathetic we are the more we can immerse ourselves in human nature.

In my experience, the 2 most effective methods to become more empathetic are:

  1. Read Novels
  2. Study History

About the first point, it is quite intuitive: identifying ourselves with the characters is an effective method to understand human nature: the characters’ doubs, their life, and their experiences.

History makes us identify with the past. History is not just remembering a long series of dates and events. History is understanding what people thought at a certain time and using their knowledge to improve our society.

Today, History is often aggregated with other subjects, such as Geography and Literature. And these hours are also decreasing in number when instead we would need them more than ever.

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