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severalog

Parallel emotions

J. Harry Caufield

Every so often, I'll crack open Emotional Intelligence 2.0 for some novel viewpoints. The book is set up as a series of lists of strategies for improving social awareness, relationship stability, and the like. In a different context, they'd be called life hacks. The strategies vary in quality and detail but are good starting points. I tend to find them useful in principle but not in their proposed execution.

Here's the example I came across today: a self-awareness strategy described as "Spot Your Emotions in Books, Movies, and Music." The general idea is that you can improve knowledge of your own emotional state and reactions by observing how you respond to art and literature. It sounds straightforward but one comment struck me as questionable.
...when a character from a movie or book sticks in your head, it's probably because important aspects of his or her thoughts or feelings parallel your own.
Is that really true? Do I find characters memorable primarily because I see myself in them or because they are different from me? Is parallel the right word, or would intersect serve a better purpose? How we react to the world around us - including the art and cultural products we're exposed to - can certainly serve as a viewpoint to our own emotions. I'd just like to think that I find characters or thoughts interesting for reasons far beyond their similarity to what I'm already experiencing.

The same philosophy is used to teach reading to children. It could be useful to encourage older students (say, college freshmen) about their own emotional responses to art and literature rather than just their analysis of it. I still think that what they'll tend to find memorable isn't primarily about their own parallel emotions. There's so much else involved that I'd hesitate to use the word probably when discussing anyone's reaction to art.