When Liz Gilbert, author of the popular book Eat, Pray, Love announced a virtual book club featuring a title I didn’t know by an author I’d never heard of, I didn’t hesitate or even read the description of the book. I just ordered the paperback and dove in when the package arrived.
Rutgers University professor Dr. Brittney Cooper, in her memoir/social commentary Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, unpacks key moments of her life in the context of Black Feminism within the American patriarchy. She describes complex relationships with peers, family members, and policies, and (at one point) suggests, “Perhaps we could start with empathy” (p. 93).
What is empathy?
Social worker, researcher and storyteller Dr. Brené Brown points to Theresa Wiseman’s four defining attributes of empathy:
- to be able to see the world as others see it
- to be nonjudgmental
- to understand another person’s feelings
- to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
Reading both fiction and nonfiction has long been my favorite way to explore perspectives and ways of life that vary from my own experiences. Reading stories—whether they’re fictional or not—can be a way to see the world as others do; to foster a sense of curiosity and nonjudgmentalism; and to begin to understand another’s feelings.
In the virtual book club interview, Cooper calls on the audience to listen to and trust other people’s stories. “I’m going to stand on the side of justice and rightness,” she proclaims, “And when marginalized people tell me this thing is happening to them, I’m going to stand with them—even as I’m learning, even as I’m growing—because we can do the right thing even when we don’t always understand all the contours of it on the front end” (79:24).
What if we start with empathy? What if we stand with our neighbor even when we don’t understand them completely? What if we practice loving our neighbor as ourselves?
Cooper closes her book in a benediction, the bones of which follow:
May you have joy.
May you have gut-busting belly laughter, every day.
May you ask more and better questions.
May your rage be a force for good.
You got this. We got this.
May it be so.