Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Empathy and Elections

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October 5th: Fifth Post

On the eve of our provincial election, I’m still thinking about empathy. In Rob Ford’s Ontario and Stephen Harper’s Canada, I can think of no more persuasive and compelling argument to vote than this profoundly empathetic passage from writer, activist and Noble Prize winner, Doris Lessing.

It’s something I used professionally in all my years of teaching, as advice to young artists both writers and actors, and a credo I’ve returned to again and again in my personal life. It's over fifty years old now, but still a most fitting reminder for today, and especially for tomorrow.

Yet we are all of us, directly or indirectly, caught up in a great whirlwind of change; and I believe that if an artist has once felt this in himself, and felt himself as part of it; if he has once made the effort of imagination necessary to comprehend it, it is an end of despair and the aridity of self-pity. It is the beginning of something else which I think is the minimum act of humility for a writer: to know that one is a writer at all because one represents, makes articulate, is continuously and invisibly fed by, numbers of people who are inarticulate, to whom one belongs, to whom one is responsible.

— Doris Lessing, The Small Personal Voice, 1957

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of the novel, When Fenelon Falls (Coach House Books). She lives in Toronto.

Go to Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s Author Page