Core Decorum: the empathy of Lit Trad

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang

If you’re a University of Dallas student, you’re quite familiar with Literary Traditions. Under the guidance of our professors, we read, discuss and analyze texts, exploring and dissecting them in these core classes. 

Paramount among all of Lit Trad’s valuable lessons, these four classes force us to analyze complex social and moral situations through the eyes of others. Fundamentally, Lit Trad teaches and encourages empathy. 

Picture your life: a valid but narrow experience of reality. Your perceptions are molded by your own encounters with goodness, evil, joy, sorrow, etc. Sharing these experiences with your parents, siblings and friends enables you to expand your understanding of the world and the human condition. 

Now picture your circle of family and friends; sure, it’s much more comprehensive than simply your own experiences, but it is still limited. 

Now pick up your Lit Trad I book, The Iliad. You perceive Achilles’ devastation at the death of Patroclus and his subsequent wrath as he avenges his fallen friend. While you must evaluate Achilles logically and ethically as a Lit Trad student, you simultaneously feel his pain. In this way, you better understand Achilles’ personhood and actions because you are able to empathize with him. 

In your fourth and final class, a Russian man’s despair and twisted worldview becomes accessible through Crime and Punishment as you accompany Raskolnikov through the streets of St. Petersburg. From the safe distance of your living room couch, you watch Raskolnikov despair, murder and repent as you encounter his experience through the novel. 

Where else besides in these Lit Trad texts could you share the lives of these characters? While you may not have personally experienced loss like Achilles or despair like Raskolnikov, Truth infiltrates these stories. As a person, you can relate to elements of these books since we all participate in the same human condition. 

Literature gives you access to the realities of the human experience that you personally may never have the chance or misfortune to encounter, teaching you to be empathetic towards other people and providing you with a broader understanding of experiences.

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