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The Worm Seeks Empathy


Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. ~John Green

I have been a reader for as long back as I can remember. During my youth, I devoured Hardy Boys mysteries as fast as I could get my mom to buy them for me. For most of my post-college life, I have had a couple of non-fiction books in progress not always finishing them but making sure I read most bedtimes for a short bit before nodding off to sleep.

My reading trickled along barely growing my literary mind. Then, a few years ago, I learned that one can develop empathy, a characteristic linked with effective leadership, from reading fiction. Since I turned 30, my life has had a strong focus on my own leadership.  I knew that empathy was not one of my strong points so I made a decision to focus on additional personal development through reading.

My first step was to neuter the enemy keeping me from reading deeply. I cut off the cable and silenced the TV (except for Big Bang Theory & Dr Who). It’s amazing how much life one can squeeze into a day, a week, a year when the tube is no longer an option.

I discovered Goodreads in the 2nd year without a TV and used this website to plan and record my reading adventures. I really liked the feature of setting a reading target which, for me, is highly motivational. It was about this time that I also bought a Kindle which I find to be a God send for readers. I can keep hundreds of books at my fingertips. It allows me to carry a library everywhere I travel. Watching my reading numbers added up quickly gives credence to my belief that I have become somewhat of a bookworm:

2012 – 102 Books

2013 – 88 Books

2014 – 87 Books

The first year I targeted 100 books just because I liked the sound of reading 100 books in a year. However, I found myself selecting books on the shorter side just so I could make the number. Reading to make a number can cause one to postpone material that otherwise would be of use and interest. At least, this is a trap I found myself flirting with. So, the following years, I dropped the target to 75 which would free me to delve into some heavy tomes such as the 1200 page, third volume of Churchill’s biography while still providing an ambitious goal.

With empathy development being a goal, intercultural leadership being a passion, and a delegation to India on the horizon, I typically choose to read books by authors not from my native country. I read through a number of Indian authors first to help prepare me for immersion in the India mindset then delved into other authors who’s original text was not in American English. I’ve found I also love reading the thoughts of Japanese and South American writers both which feature heavily in my regular reading rotation.

The result, I find I am somewhat better able to understand people at an emotional level. I find I am able to tear up with a very sad or an overwhelmingly happy story whether told to me by another person or read in a book or seen on the screen. I find I am able to relate to people more deeply undergoing emotional turmoil and no longer have as a first reaction to tell them to, “suck it up”.  I’m still not where I want to be but am definitely on the way. My to read list, currently pegged at 194 books, grows on a semi-regular basis. So, I find a question I wrestle with on a weekly basis is, “what should I read next?”

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