10 July 2016

Author George Saunders: "...the only tool we have is empathy..."

There is a wonderful excerpt from an interview of author George Saunders by Lynn Neary of NPR on her program Weekend Edition Saturday (July 9, 2016). The interview is titled “In Search For Answers, Author George Saunders Covers Trump Campaign.”

In PlayFull’s Creative Awakening course, we discuss the importance of specificity in artistic expression. It’s interesting to see that Saunders cites specificity as also key to generating understanding of those who come from a different background—whether that difference is political, racial, or religious. In this way, specificity has the capacity to nurture empathy and compassion for those we regard as the Other.

The following quote is a transcript of an interview so it doesn’t read like edited print work. I invite you to bear with the glitches in the language and read for the overall meaning. Here is what Saunders said:

SAUNDERS: Well, because the way that media falls on our mind and then inflects it has changed so much. You know, as a fiction writer, one of things you learn is God lives in specificity. You know, human kindness is increased as we pursue specificity.

So in a story, for example, you'll start off with a character who is a little bit of a cartoon. That's not satisfying and you start revising. And as you revise you always are making it better by being specific and by observing more closely, which actually is really the same as saying you love your characters. The close observation equals love of them.

In the process, the piece gets more big-hearted, more fair, it includes more things and more people. So I think, and this - I know this is a, you know, kind of a big theory, but I think something that I can't name about our media has made us move away from that kind of specificity and that kind of curiosity. So it doesn't - the problem doesn't go away no matter what happens in November. And I think the - what I tried to get at in the piece is that the only tool we have is empathy and some development of mutual affection for the other side.

You can listen to the rest of the interview here.

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