Reading enables me to escape the confusing and confining circumstances of my own world through gaining a deeper understanding of others. 

Literature has always been my escape from everyday life, and when I do face real people, it is also the reason that I resist judging a book by its cover, so to speak. 

When life becomes hard for me, such as in 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic trapped me within the walls of my house and I experienced grief for loved ones and family members, I turned to books to escape. Sometimes the characters I used to escape were heroes who looked at the world and tried to make it better. Other times, the characters I read were villains. However, when I read a story, even one whose main character was someone who did bad things, I still grew to understand them, sometimes even root for them. In escaping from the confusing and confining world of my own, I entered the world of others. 

A 2012 study by researchers from Dalton State College and Converse College in the US, explains the phenomenon of ‘rooting for the bad guy’. Richard Keen, Monica Powell McCoy and Elizabeth Powell examined how narratives make readers feel empathy. The study used psychological concepts and linked them to literature to conclude that literature makes us feel so deeply for characters because we are given a first-person perspective into their lives and so we avoid blaming actions on the characters themselves but rather blame their circumstances. This is similar to the perspective we take on when examining our own actions. We judge our actions by blaming things outside of our control and rarely blame our own internal thoughts and values for wrongdoings. 

Getting lost in these characters has shown me how stories have the potential to make us understand the most incomprehensible situations. Later in life, when covid-19 released its deadlock on our lives, I came across people I couldn’t see eye to eye with, people who hurt me or made me feel inferior but, I had learnt that behind every one of these people who seemed incomprehensible to me, there was a whole story that had led them to where they were. I could not judge them for how they treated me without keeping in mind the villains that I grew to know and love through books. Stories made me feel mercy and empathy in the judgement of the most despicable characters, in books and in life. As there will always be people who hurt me in some way or other, this is something that I like to think I carry with me through life. 

As a journalism student and an avid news reader, I notice how often the world and the press in particular refer to people who have done bad things, as bad people. There is little room to explain how factors beyond their control lead people to where they find themselves in the latest gossip or news article. I believe literature is such a valuable art form because through it, while escaping from my own life, I have entered the lives of others and lived how they have lived. It is so important to keep in mind that we judge the actions of others differently to how we judge ourselves, unless we know their whole story. But there is always a whole story. I hope to carry this idea into my own practice of journalism and avoid creating two dimensional characters out of multi-dimensional people. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Kimberley Kersten. Photo: File