Empathy in Difference

Books

Though modern culture continues to grow away from traditional mediums; replacing the journal with the phone and intimate conversation with online chat, the art of telling a story will always be a new concept. Not only does literature serve as storage for scholarly findings or political developments, it also works to express ideas and personal thoughts of the individual. As such, there is more to the book than cold facts for our own personal gain. What creative literature provides is a way into foreign living and interpretation. This is how we understand other cultures, how we empathize and relate to one another regardless of the fact we’re not the same.

In telling our personal stories, we share our individual view of the world. We inspire and shape new culture with our ideas for a better future and bring light to our unseen lifestyles. I’m not strictly talking biographies, I’m referencing the concept that within our creative works we share a bit about ourselves and how we view the inner workings of our society. Take any fiction novel, series, whatever, and find what makes that story relatable to you. In my case, Homestuck, a story about nerds who get trapped inside a game as the Earth is obliterated. Alien creatures called trolls band together with them to beat the game, and they’re able to create a new home planet for everyone to share. It’s very engaging, and the plot makes it easy to empathize with each character. How can this be? The story is fiction. The universe doesn’t exist. The characters aren’t even human. Yet I found something I could relate to. This is because the writer included a bit of their familiar world within their work, many times simply for the reason that readers would be able to follow along. No matter how hard we try, our own values and perception of life creep into our work. This is how we expose ourselves to our audience, how we let others in and help them understand our backgrounds. This goes for the conflict of our characters down to the way we write.

Everything we do is influenced in some way by culture and society. This is why fictional literature is just as telling as biographies. Just because it’s not factual, doesn’t mean it’s clean of personal experience. And this is what I’m getting at. Literature tells our story. It’s how we interact and empathize. It’s important. It’s us. It’s all we know. And we need to learn from other people. We need to become aware of foreign cultures, and different ways of thinking, and how to improve as one big family, and just how to get along. We can do all these things by reading and writing creative works. And the concepts within the works will always be relative to modern concepts. This is how literature stays current, how it stays alive amongst the frequent turnover of technology. Like paper and pen. What happened to that? Now it’s all typing. But who cares, that’s not what I’m talking about.

So what about me? Let’s change the subject for a minute. I consider myself to be a fiction writer. I spill beans about myself and my culture with every word on the page. This is how I input my experience, this is how I express my background. What do I write about? Little things like culture, love, and people. That’s what I’m passionate about. I like to write about embracing our differences, and sharing our views of the world, and finding hope. I was raised to believe these things, so my writing reflects it. Just how someone who was raised in a poor environment, and longs for more money, might write about finding success and how their characters struggle with their financial background. Or maybe they’ll write about rich people who don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. It’s all relative to how we’re raised, where we come from, what we believe.

I’m thinking once we read a variety of works by a variety of people, we’ll start to understand one another, and even though we may not agree, we’ll grow closer as human beings and learn to accept those who differ from us. That’s what it’s all about. With the current topics in creative works like gender, sexuality, politics, all that stuff that makes up who we are as individuals, it remains in public interest. This is one art form that will never die. It’s just too much of an outlet for people. Humans are going to tell stories, it’s what they do. And hopefully those stories will open our eyes to each other. And I don’t know, maybe we’ll let live.

 

By: Stephanie van Schijndel

Rewriting History

Credit: Wikimedia Commons, James J. Williams

Credit: James J. Williams

“History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill

The history that we are taught in school is a very narrow one. It is framed in victories, accomplishments, and the Western world’s ideologies. Very little is said about those who’ve suffered from these accomplishments, and over time, we’ve accepted that to mean this: their stories don’t matter. However, this teaching is wrong– and they do.

In the fourteenth issue of Silk Road Review, a themed issue titled Voices on Asia, I was struck by a piece on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the destruction of the Hawaiian Nation and its people. Elinor Langer contributed “Bayonet,” the first chapter of her novel, “The Trials of Lili-uokalani,” which detailed the political takeover which occurred in 1887. This eye-opening counter story to the dominant narrative is all at once saddening, horrifying, and inspiring as the Hawaiian Nation’s trials and tribulations were glossed over as simply the annexation of Hawaii, America’s 50th state.

One segment from the text particularly haunted me as I read about the decline in the native Hawaiian population.  “A report dated June 30, 1887…puts the native Hawaiian population at 44,232, a decrease of 41 percent…[since] the year of the King’s birth. The losses were at once personal and universal. Whole families and villages simply disappeared.” The loss of 41 percent of anything is staggering, but 41 percent of a human population is…beyond comprehension and expression. I cannot help but think back to the genocide of the America’s indigenous peoples by colonists, explorers, and business men trying to expand their property and profits at the expense of human life. It is a pattern that should not be so easily left out of history and forgotten. It should not be admissible by omission as responsibility cannot so easily be sloughed off.

The actions of the Honolulu Rifles, the Caucasian militia group that backed the bureaucratic coup, personally disgust me with their pride and lust for conflict. Records from their meetings before and after confronting King Kalakaua show that they vehemently supported a violent coup if the King were to resist and “waited as long as we could stand it, and when our Anglo-Saxon blood could endure it no longer we screwed our courage to the sticking point and went in for revolution.” It’s hard to comprehend why they believed that their, to use their term, “revolution”, was for a righteous cause. Led by business men with personal interests in the reallocation of political power, it was an aggressive business plan at its most basic level. These men hid behind their hoity-toity colonial mindsets to justify the destruction of an entire nation and its culture. The fact that they got away with it directly correlates with the history it subsequently aligns with.

Langer recounts the difficult choice that King Kalakaua had to make in 1887 to do what he thought best for his people. While it put the first nail in the coffin for his sister’s subsequent usurpation from power, he did so to try and protect his subjects from violence. The complexity of these actions is difficult to capture in a way that grants them the dignity they are deserving of. Being forced to give up their lands and culture, as well as many lives, has shaped the Hawaiian Nation in a way that will continue to resonate for generations to come. And in order to give them the justice they deserve, we must hear their stories. That is why this piece moved me so. I was glad they were finally given a voice, and hope to hear it in their own words soon.

It seems wrong to label this as a counter story to history, as it is in fact a historical account. However, it is a counter story to colonial European and American history which has flourished as Truth. By presenting the events of the Bayonet Constitution and the conflicting interests of the people involved, a more rounded account of the event starts to form. No longer is history just a unilateral narrative when counter stories emerge to give voice to those who “lost.”

“The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” – Oscar Wilde

By: Sophia Backus