What's Happening in Character Education?

Examining Poverty & Cultivating Empathy: Three Books that will expand your perspective

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

By Becky Sipos

I’ve been preparing for Thanksgiving, anticipating a visit to see my grandchildren in South Dakota and looking forward to all the family socializing in the kitchen as we prepare our traditional feast. This banquet will be quite a contrast to the three books I’ve been reading.The first is Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, my book club’s nonfiction selection this month. I thought the horrific stories of life in the slums of Mumbai, India, would be too awful to read, but Boo’s empathetic portrayal really drew me into their lives. I cheered for Abdul, the young garbage sorter, who works hard to get ahead, and was intrigued by Zehrunisa, his mother, whose efforts so often backfired despite her best efforts. As I got to know the complexity of the people, I was appalled by the corruption in society. But even when I felt that some deserved some blame for certain outcomes, I certainly understood and empathized with why they did what they did. I liked that Boo did not just focus on the terrible things. She showed the fun and playfulness of flagpole ring toss, teenage girl tell-all sessions and more. The book gave me a look at an aspect of society I had never really contemplated before. As a former journalism teacher, I read with amazement wondering how she gained the trust of her subjects and got such details of their lives. It also made me think how important it is that she makes us look at something we’d normally not notice. Now that we’re aware, what should we do? The author said in an interview: “If we don’t have all the time in the world to make things perfect, we can still make incremental and meaningful improvements. And seeing what’s wrong—seeing it clearly—seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.”

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Topics: empathy, Book Review, Poverty