Why train in empathy when you can read Dickens? Posted on January 8, 2021January 8, 2021by moodcoachLeave a comment I do like Christmas especially when I can balance giving to others and allowing myself some pleasures – and not just intake of food and drink.Of course, family life brings its own pleasures (and stresses) but also it is one of the only times when I can get my nose into a good book. So, what better books at Christmas than Charles Dickens?I had never read him before this summer when I read the magnificent David Copperfield. Charles Dickens must have had emotional intelligence by the barrowful to write something as emotionally moving as David Copperfield . So my question is: who needs training in empathy when you can read and engage with the powerful writing of a master whose books remain as relevant as when they were first written.Thus, encouraged by my reading of the first book, I am now tucking into the slimmer Great Expectations. Although not as enthusiastic about this classic nonetheless it has some marvellous characters and descriptions. I don’t think I have ever been so saddened and yet so grateful to Dickens for capturing the possibility of unconditional love between people. It does, forgive the cliché, restore faith in humanity. Just a brief example from Great Expectations is that of the loss that Pip (the protagonist) predicts when separating from his adored brother-in-law (Joe) is on the cards.“Joe laid his hand on my shoulder with the touch of a woman. I have often thought him since like the sledge-hammer, that can crush a man or pat an egg-shell, in his combination of strength and gentleness…… Oh dear good Joe, whom I was so ready to leave and so unthankful to, I see you again, with your muscular blacksmith’s arm before your eyes, and your broad chest heaving, and your voice dying away. Oh dear good faithful tender Joe. I feel the loving tremble of your hand upon my arm, as solemnly this day as if it had been the rustle of an angel’s wing!”The classics can be relied on to capture and describe emotional experiences much better than the very best text books on emotion and emotional trauma. As good as Dickens, on description of complex emotion is D.H. Lawrence, who captures the defense of dissociation in the face of misery like no one before or since; the scene in the cowshed with his young infant is beautifully written.There are some text books that are rich reading experiences, I have again picked up the late RF Hobson’s book “Forms of Feeling” and he masterfully uses literature (classic writing and poetry) to deepen our understanding of the privilege of working with people during difficult times. Such books, apart from being a joy to read, help shine a light on the importance of relationship and the value of striving to make a deep connection even when the other (or both) struggles with a process which they (and us) might find offers possibilities and joy and pain and loss. Training in empathy? Give me Charles Dickens everytime.