There was a question posed by Frank Bruni on America’s simmering stew of identity politics.
He lamented, “Where are the bridges?” in his essay, “I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out (8/13/17)”
His cry was a reference to the single-mindedness of identity politics that are defined as that:
tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.
Bruni’s question is timely. There have been several polarizing political events in this summer of 2017. Over the weekend, a white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville ended in fatalities. Over the past weeks, there has been heat created by proposed immigration bans and the possible removal of transgender military personnel. These ingredients have been added to the political goulash that already contained the Black Lives Matter movement, the Blue Lives Movement, and calls for a wall along the nation’s Mexican border. There’s even a dash of Google in an employee’s memo suggesting women are more neurotic than men. At the center of this ferment is a large slab of income inequity.
While the temperature of political discourse is rising, there is no melting of identity politics in America’s great melting pot.
“And where are the bridges?” writes Bruni.
I worry about those bridges; as an educator, I am trained to look for solutions.
I offer one possible low-cost, readily-available solution: reading.
Reading provides the reader the experience of seeing through another’s eyes. That is the definition of empathy. There is research that supports the link between the reading of stories and empathy. Therefore, my response as an educator to Bruni is that the bridges he seeks can be bridges that are built by reading stories.
In short, stories build empathy, and empathy builds bridges.
These bridges are found in narratives, memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies.
These bridges are found in allegories, fables, fairy tales, folk tales, and myths.
These bridges are found in chronicles, records, reports, and serials.
These bridges are found in confessions, contes, and cliffhangers.
These bridges are found in comedies, dramas, tragedies.
These bridges are found in parables, plays, and poetry.
These bridges are found in episodes, sagas, and epics.
The bridges Bruni seeks are built by our collective stories; the bridges can be seen through the points of view developed by empathy.
Thousands upon thousands of bridges exist, and educators can help students see those bridges and cross them through the experience of reading.