Empathy is hard. How do you empathise without insulting, when you’re free and you’re meeting a prisoner? How do you do it without forgiving, when the person you’re trying to understand is the disadvantaged perpetrator of a crime and you’re the privileged victim? And how do you empathise when you’re ignorant and may never really be able to understand something; when it’s only through the long, painful shedding of light on it that you begin the approach?
Leslie Jamison has been working at empathy for us – this collection of essays seems almost like coursework for the exams of the title. She makes you step into the running shoes of so-called ‘ultra-runners’, or into the prison shoes of a man convicted of mortgage fraud or into the scrubs of a doctor.
These are not easy stories or easy questions but they are worthwhile, just as our efforts towards understanding someone else’s pain are worthwhile.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison is published by Granta and costs £12.99