Empathic Creativity

Makoto Fujimura gave a talk on March 1st, 2008, and posted Empathic Creativity: Generative Transformation on his blog back in March. I finally got to read it this weekend. At first, I scanned it quickly, as I often do with blog posts. And when I got to the end, I realized I needed to read it more closely, so I did, a few times. It is the kind of post that needs to be absorbed.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird several months ago, and one scene seemed profound in its simplicity, the story of Scout walking into an angry mob. And the little girl, she begins to speak to Mr. Cunningham about things that matter to him, she empathizes.

Mr. Cunningham brought hickory nuts to Atticus in thanks for work Atticus performed in the Cunningham family in the beginning of the story. Now Scout reminds Mr. Cunningham about entailment, or a swap of one work for another, a sort of a code to unlock Mr. Cunningham’s humanity. The code worked to not only help Mr. Cunningham remember, but she taps into a greater conscience of how a human being should treat each other, with dignity and respect. And she defuses the situation, in her determined innocence.

If we are faced with an angry mob, ready to do the unthinkable horror of our days, what would be our response? To fight back with fire against fire, respond in hatred against hatred? I suggest we follow Scout’s lead in calling people to remember. Scout did not confront the bigotry by arguing for justice. What she accomplished in her naiveté was to step into the mob, to remind people that they were her neighbors. Within a culture that is full of cynicism, apathy and anger, we must remind one another to remember. Our task as artists is to remind people that they are our neighbors. Our arts should lead others to recall who they are. And by doing so, we may remind them, and ourselves, who we are. Our responsibility is to re-humanize the divide, to speak a “third language” of generative creativity that defuses the cultural war language.

Scout defused the situation by being fully human, fully a child.

There is much is our culture that dehumanizes, and sadly, we, as Christians, are sometimes guilty of it. We dehumanize sinners. We dehumanize our personal enemies and our national enemies. My friend Matt quoted Nouwen on his blog: “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant (i.e. die to oneself, or give up on the idea of being ‘cool and popular’) and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” Vulnerability, accessibility, authenticity, humanity.

I love what Fujimura has to say about our first love too. I think I’ll read it a few more times…