A benefit of writing and reading

I had a random thought last night:

A beneficial side-effect of creative writing and reading is getting into heads and points-of-view that aren’t your own.

Understanding other people’s perspectives is an essential life skill. It leads to empathy, compassion, and tolerance, and it reduces the number of times someone angrily says, “How can anyone in their right mind think X?!?!?”

Good writers allow their characters to express views the writers themselves don’t believe. This is vital. The good guys can’t all have identical worldviews. There can be some common ground, but distinctions need to be drawn. And would you want to read a book in which all the sympathetic characters appear to be mouthpieces for the author’s opinions?

There’s a scene in The Avengers movie where Captain America makes a positive reference to God. The screenwriter/director, Joss Whedon, is an atheist, but he didn’t let that get in the way. He wrote the line that rang true for Cap’s character, regardless of how he personally felt about it. That’s the mark of a professional right there.

So, for you authors out there, as you write all your characters with their unique viewpoints, you’re training yourself to look at the world in different ways. You might still disagree with your characters, but you’ll at least see where they’re coming from. Then, in real life when you meet people whose views initially seem baffling, you’ll have the skillset to step outside your own head and explore those views in a new light.

The same goes for readers. Read books from the POV of characters who are nothing like you, and it will stretch your perceptions.

Keep reading and keep writing, and the world will be a more compassionate, tolerant place.