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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Sympathy for the devil: What's the bad guy's point of view?



Novelist Rachel Kadish tells her creative-writing students to write a first-person monologue by a character with "abhorrent" views that includes "an instant in which we can feel empathy for the speaker."


"Done right, the exercise delivers a one-two punch: repugnance for a behavior or worldview coupled with recognition of shared humanity," she writes in the New York Times.


She's taught versions of the exercise for 20 years with students of all ages, writes Kadish. "In recent years openness to this exercise, and to the imaginative leap it’s designed to teach, has narrowed to a pinprick." It doesn't matter "whether students lean right or left . . . A leap into someone else’s perspective feels impossible."


Little Nell, Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash

I was a creative writing major a half-century ago. We were told to "write what you know," but not to populate our fiction with a cast of right-thinking clones and bad-thinking villains. Leaping into other people's perspectives was essential. If all you can write is Sensitive College Student Meets Snidely Whiplash . . . Well, it won't be worth reading.


Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management is creating a Center for Enlightened Disagreement to study and teach how to "engage across difference and harness the power of diverse perspectives," writes Johnny Jackson on Diverse.


“Our nation is threatened today by the politics of identity and persistent divisions based on region, class, religion and educational attainment,” said Northwestern President Michael H. Schill. “We increasingly lack the capacity to understand each other and to empathize with people who seem not to be like us.”


Creating a center to teach people how to disagree without bashing each other over the head . . . It seems sad.

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5 Comments


Heresolong
Heresolong
Feb 21

The Last Ringbearer is a retelling of Lord of the Rings from the perspective of those who opposed the rise of Gondor and the men of the West. Quite amusing and well written. Little twists like "Aragorn murdered Boromir to ease his way to the throne of Gondor", etc.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Ringbearer

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m_t_anderson
Feb 20

It had not occurred to me until just now that Snidely Whiplash, the best-dressed character in the melodrama, was actually a clever and dramatic matchmaker. One who contrived a variety of ruses and situations designed to get Nell Fenwick to finally focus her attentions on the lovestruck Dudley Do-Right. Of course, SW was in the employ of Nell's father, Inspector Fenwick, who calculated that having Dudley as a son-in-law would be far cheaper than supporting Nell' horse mania. Why, I bet "Snidely Whiplash" is just a convenient alias. Stop me before I write a novel...

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superdestroyer
Feb 20

Anyone who went through high school debate learned how at least see issues from both a positive and a negative side. The Brookings Institute says that high schools would do better with teaching media literacy by using debate


https://www.brookings.edu/articles/debate-centered-instruction-can-be-new-classroom-tool-for-civility-and-racial-justice/

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superdestroyer
Feb 20
Replying to

When those stories originally came out, I read the news is that judges publish their own scouting report on how they will judge instead of depending on the big schools to do it themselves.


However, remember, one had to be able to argue the affirmative and the negative and have to be able to argue both sides. The same thing happens in the good law schools where law students have to argue both sides of a case.

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