Movies, Books, and Empathy

April 2013. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

I love to read, and I love going to movies. For some, movies may be pure entertainment. For me, they are also a means for developing empathy.

My Mother was an INFP. I probably presented a challenge for her as an ESTJ, but she would continually demonstrate other ways of viewing people and situations. Not that I always agreed with her, but I did listen, and eventually came to highly value her views. She liked reading and movies, too!

As an ESTJ, I love my dominant Thinking function. I use it to organize as much of my world as I can, to critique what is "not right," and to move forward directly to get things done.

My fourth/inferior function is introverted Feeling. Introverted Feeling is about knowing what really matters, and empathy may be a path to guide me there. It can help me identify my values and see what is important to others and how they may see the world.

I got to thinking about empathy development while reading the obituaries of Roger Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize winning movie critic. Although we've never met, I have a special place in my heart for Roger because he was born in my hometown of Urbana, Illinois and graduated from the same public school, Urbana High School.

He also sponsored the "Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival" there; it was always interesting to read about his picks and why he made them. As a dominant Thinking type, those "whys" were always fascinating.

Ebert judged films in this way: "Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you." He talked about film as a way to develop empathy. To paraphrase him—where else can you actually grasp what it's like to be someone other than yourself? You can see things from the viewpoint of the opposite gender, a different culture, a different race, in different situations, and in different times.

Feeling types tend to pay direct attention to their feelings (in this case, I am talking about their emotions) as a guide to what's important to them, to their values; they can then make their decisions using their rational Feeling function.

Thinking types tend not to trust their emotions in the same way; we have to learn to pay more attention to those emotions and what they are telling us about our values and what others believe is important. They can bring us valuable information that we can then put into a logical framework.

Reading is also a way to develop empathy. I once heard Garrison Keillor complain (at a Democratic Party fundraiser) that Republicans must not read since they don't seem to have much empathy for others. Reading, like films, provides those differing viewpoints and gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in them.

So, my excuse for reading and going to the movies is: type development!! I like having reasons for all that I do!!!