How do you escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear?

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Graham Greene

Photo: Jan Myhrehagen via PixotoFrom

I can be very talkative, though often do not enjoy talking. For me face-to-face interactions and talking are often lacking depth and meaning of writing and reading. Physical and social attributes of another person distract from the real essence of his or her being. I find reading and blogging much more helpful in expressing myself and interacting with other people.


What about you?

How do you escape the madness, melancholia,
the panic and fear?

What is your favourite way of expressing yourself
and interacting with other people?


Blogging for authenticity in the world of fake smiles


We long for acceptance, love, and connection. But often we don’t know how to create it in the world full of fake smiles and empty greetings. In the world of sweet dreams where everybody’s looking for something…

I think this longing for authentic communication is what drives people to blogging, both as bloggers and as readers.

In the blogosphere, we do not know each other personally, so we don’t get distracted with the usual ‘surface’ features like age, gender, social-economic status, ethnicity and therefore don’t get blinded by the usual stereotypes and prejudices. We can take off the mask and be more real and genuine without fear of repercussions.


 The creative side of blogging also gives us plenty of room for exploration. Like writers, getting in the ‘skin’ of different characters in their books, we can explore how we might have felt if…, or what we might have done if… We can move away from the logic of the everyday routine life and let our imagination roam free.


 What is so special for you in writing blogs?

Or why do you keep reading?



Write to create a better world

“Don’t write to escape your world, instead write to create a better one.”

Cliff Harrison


Some might consider writing and reading a waste of time. Is that really so? Or can we create a better world via reading, writing and blogging?

As Steven Pinker points out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes, “Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions. As we shall see, “empathy” in the sense of adopting someone’s viewpoint is not the same as “empathy” in the sense of feeling compassion toward the person, but the first can lead to the second by a natural route…

Adopting other people’s vantage points can alter one’s convictions in other ways. Exposure to worlds that can be seen only through the eyes of a foreigner, an explorer, or a historian can turn an unquestioned norm (“That’s the way it’s done”) into an explicit observation (“That’s what our tribe happens to do now”). This self- consciousness is the first step toward asking whether the practice could be done in some other way…”


From Slush Pile Empathy

By spreading positive ideas via our blogs, we can combat harmful viruses of the mind and develop empathy and compassion. By exchanging our thoughts and experiences, we can learn from each other, identify personal biases, and improve individual and cultural practices.

As Noam Chomsky once said, “”There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education…, action… – and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.”

Let’s use our creativity to make this world a better place for everyone.


The Frog Princess

“Boys who never read fairy tales, often end up marrying princesses that turn out to be frogs rather than frogs that turn out to be princesses.”


* * *


Many years ago a tsar had three sons. When they came of age he sent for them and said:
“My sons, before I am too old I want you to marry, and I would like to see my grandchildren.”
The sons replied:
“In that case, father, give us your blessing. But whom are we to marry?”
“My sons,” the tsar said, “take your bows, go out into the open field, and shoot an arrow. Wherever it falls, there you will find your wife.”
The sons bowed to their father, took their bows, went into the fields, drew them and shot their arrows. The eldest son’s arrow fell into a nobleman’s courtyard, where it was picked up by his daughter. The second son’s arrow fell into a merchant’s courtyard, and it was picked up by his daughter. But the arrow shot by the youngest son, Prince Ivan, rose so high and flew so far that he didn’t know where to look for it. So he started to walk, and at last he came to a marsh. In the marsh he saw a frog with his arrow in its mouth. He said to the frog:
“Frog, give me back my arrow.”
But the frog replied:
“Then take me for your wife.”
“Oh, come now,” the prince said, “how can I have a frog as my wife?”
“But you must, for it is the tsar’s will.”
At first the prince tried to avoid it, but eventually he had to accept his fate and carry the frog home.

Artist:Ivan Bilibin

Then the tsar arranged for the three marriages; his eldest son to the nobleman’s daughter, his second to the merchant’s daughter, and the unhappy Prince Ivan to the frog.
After the weddings the tsar summoned his sons again, and told them:
“I want to see which of your wives is the finest needlewoman. Each one is to make me a shirt by tomorrow.”
The sons bowed to their father and went to tell their wives. But when Prince Ivan arrived home he sat down looking very miserable. The frog was jumping around on the floor, and it asked him:
“You look very unhappy, Prince Ivan ? Are you in trouble?”
“My father has ordered you to make him a shirt by tomorrow,” the prince answered.
“Do not worry, Prince Ivan,” the frog said. “You just go to bed. You will feel better after a good sleep.”
So he went to bed. But the frog jumped out on to the verandah, threw off its skin and turned into the wise Princess Vassilisa, a maiden so beautiful that words could never describe her. She clapped her hands and cried:
“My faithful attendants, gather round and listen to me. Sew for me by tomorrow morning a shirt like the one my own father used to wear.”
When the prince woke up next morning the frog was jumping about the floor again, but a shirt wrapped in linen was already lying on the table. He was overjoyed. He picked up the shirt and took it to his father. When he arrived, the tsar was receiving the gifts from his two elder sons. The eldest son spread out the shirt his wife had made. As the tsar accepted it he said:
“This is a shirt for everyday wear.”
When the second son spread out his shirt, the tsar said:
“I could only go to the bath in that.”
Then Prince Ivan unfolded his shirt; it was embroidered with gold and silver threads in intricate patterns. The tsar took one look at it and declared:
“Now that is a shirt; I can wear it on important occasions.”
The two elder brothers went oft home, remarking to each other as they went:
“It seems we were too quick to laugh at Ivan’s wife; she is no frog, she is a witch.”
Now the tsar sent for his sons again, and told them:
“Each of your wives is to bake a loaf of bread for me by tomorrow. I wish to find out which is the best cook.”
When Prince Ivan arrived home after seeing his father he looked so miserable that the frog asked him:
“What is the matter, Prince Ivan?”
“You have to bake a loaf of bread for the tsar by tomorrow,” Ivan answered.
“Do not worry; just go to bed. You will feel better after a good sleep.”
At first the elder sons wives had made fun of Prince Ivan’s frog wife. But now they had changed their minds, and they sent an old kitchen woman to spy out how the frog was going to bake bread. But the frog, being wise, realised their scheme. After kneading the dough it made a hole in the top of the brick oven and poured the dough through the hole. The woman saw what had been done, and ran to the elder brothers’s wives and told them. So they set to work and did the same. But after Prince Ivan had gone to bed the frog jumped out on to the verandah, turned into the wise Princess Vassilisa, and clapped her hands:
“My faithful attendants, gather round and listen to me. Bake for me by the morning soft white bread like the bread I ate at my father’s table.”
When the prince woke up next morning the loaf of bread was already lying on the table. It was decorated with various fancy designs, and on its top was the shape of a city with walls and gates. He was delighted, wrapped the bread in clean linen, and took it to his father. When he arrived the tsar was receiving the loaves brought by his two elder sons. But their wives had poured the dough into the ovens just as the old woman had told them, and all they had to show for their labour were two burnt cinders. The tsar took the burnt loaf offered by his eldest son, looked at it, and sent it straight to the servants’s quarters.
Then he took the loaf from his second son, and sent it after the other. But when Prince Ivan handed him his loaf the tsar said:
“Now this is such good bread, it should be eaten only on great occasions.”

Artist:Ivan Bilibin

The tsar had arranged a banquet for the following day, and he ordered his sons to attend with their wives. The thought of his frog wife attending a banquet made Prince Ivan feel far from cheerful, and he returned home with his head hanging. As usual, the frog was jumping about the floor. When it saw him it asked:
“Prince Ivan, what are you looking so miserable for? Has your father said something unpleasant to you?”
“How can I help looking miserable, frog? My father has ordered me to bring you to a banquet; and how can I show you to people?”
But the frog answered:
“Do not grieve, Prince Ivan. You go oft to the banquet by yourself, and I will follow later. When you hear a knock and a clap of thunder, do not be afraid. If anyone asks you what it means, just say: “That is my little frog who is coming riding in a little box.”
So he went off to the banquet alone. His elder brothers arrived with their wives dressed in their finery, wearing their jewellery, their faces painted and powdered. They laughed at Prince Ivan and asked:
“Why did you not bring your wife with you? You could have carried her in a handkerchief. Wherever did you find such a beauty? You must have searched all through the marshes for her.”
The tsar, his sons, their wives, and all the guests sat down at the oaken tables, which were spread with embroidered tablecloths. But before they started to feast there was a loud knock and a clap of thunder, so powerful that the palace shook. The guests were alarmed, and jumped up from their seats. But Prince Ivan said:
“Do not be afraid. It is only my little frog coming. She is riding in a little box.”
At that moment a gilded carriage drawn by six white horses drew up at the tsar’s front door, and the wise Princess Vassilisa stepped out. She was wearing an azure gown studded with stars; on her head was a shining chaplet; she was so beautiful that the guests sat and stared. She took Prince Ivan by the hand and he led her to the oaken table.
The guests began to eat and drink, and to make merry. But the wise Vassilisa only took one sip from her glass, pouring the rest into her left sleeve. She only nibbled at her plate of swan meat, and dropped the bones into her right sleeve. And when the two elder brothers’s wives noticed what she was doing they followed her example.
After the eating and drinking it was time for dancing. The wise Vassilisa took Prince Ivan’s hand and they danced together. And she danced so marvellously, so beautifully, that all the guests were amazed. Then she waved her left sleeve, and suddenly a lake was formed in the hall; she waved her right sleeve, and white swans floated on the lake. The tsar and his guests were filled with astonishment.

Artist:Ivan Bilibin

Then the elder brothers’s wives also danced. And when they danced they waved one sleeve, but they only sprinkled the guests with wine; they waved the other sleeve, but only bones flew out. One bone hit the tsar in the eye, and he was so angry that he drove both the wives out of the palace.
Meanwhile, Prince Ivan quietly slipped out of the hall, and hurried home. He found the frog skin lying on the verandah and threw it into the stove, where it burnt in the fire. When Princess Vassilisa returned home she saw that the frog skin was gone. She sat down on a bench and said to her husband sorrowfully:
“Ah, Prince Ivan, what have you done? If you had waited only another three days I would have been yours for ever. But now I must say goodbye. You can look for me in the thirtieth kingdom beyond three times nine lands. There you will find me with Kashchey the Deathless.”
Then she turned into a grey cuckoo and flew out of the window. And the prince wept bitterly. Bowing to all the four points of the compass he went off into the world to seek his wife, the wise Princess Vassilisa. He walked for so long that he wore out his boots, his clothes were torn, and the rain soaked through his cap. One day he happened to meet a very old man, who asked him:
“Hello, young man! What are you seeking, where are you going?”
The prince told him how he had lost his wife, and was now seeking her. And the old man said:
“Ah, Prince Ivan, what made you burn the frog skin? You did not have to wear it or take it off. The wise Vassilisa was born cleverer and wiser than her father, and he was so annoyed that he ordered her to be a frog for three years. What is done cannot be undone. Take this ball; wherever it rolls, you follow boldly after it.”
The prince thanked the old man and started to follow the ball. It rolled along, and he walked behind it. In the open country he came across a bear, and took aim, intending to kill it. But the bear spoke to him in a human voice:
“Do not kill me, Prince Ivan. Some day I shall be of service to you.”
The prince had pity on the bear, and went on his way without shooting it. As he walked he saw a drake flying above him.
He took aim to shoot it, but the drake spoke to him in a human voice:
“Do not kill me, Prince Ivan. I shall be of service to you.”
So he had pity on the drake and went his way. Next a hare came running past. Ivan thought he would shoot the hare; but it said in a human voice:
“Do not kill me, Prince Ivan. I shall be of service to you.”
So he let the hare go, and went his way. He came to the blue sea and saw a pike lying on the sand of the shore. It was hardly able to breathe, and it said to him:
“Prince Ivan, have pity on me; throw me back into the blue sea.”
So he threw the pike into the sea, and followed the ball as it rolled along the shore. At last the ball rolled into a forest. There the prince saw a little hut standing on a chicken leg, and twisting round and round. He said to the hut:
“Little hut, little hut, stand just as you were built, with your back to the forest, your front to me.”
Then the little hut turned with its front towards him, and its back to the forest. He went inside, and saw an old witch, the Baba Yaga, lying on top of the stove, her chin resting on the shelf at the top of the stove, and her nose pressed up against the ceiling.
“Why have you called on me, young fellow?” the old witch asked him. “Are you seeking your fortune, or are you running away from it?”
“You old scold,” the prince answered, “before you start asking questions you should give me food and drink and a hot bath.”
So the old witch Baba Yaga gave him a hot bath, gave him food and drink, and put him to bed. Then the prince told her he was seeking his wife, the wise Princess Vassilisa.
“I know, I know,” the old witch said. “Your wife is with Kashchey the Deathless now. It will be difficult to get her away from him, Kashchey is not easy to deal with. His death is right at the point of a needle, the needle is in an egg, the egg is in a duck, the duck is in a hare, the hare is sitting in a stone chest, the stone chest is in the crown of a lofty oak, and Kashchey the Deathless guards that oak as he would the apple of his eye.”
Prince Ivan spent the night in the old witch’s hut, and next morning she told him how to get to the spot where the lofty oak was growing. The prince found the spot, and saw the oak standing, rustling its leaves; in its crown was a stone chest, so high that it was very difficult to get at.
Suddenly a bear ran up and tore the oak up by its roots. The chest fell, and was smashed to pieces. A hare leapt out of the chest, and fled at top speed. But a second hare chased after it, overtook it, and tore it to pieces. But a duck flew out of the pieces, and sailed right up to the sky. However, as the prince watched, a drake flew at the duck; as he struck her she let fall an egg, and the egg dropped into the azure sea.
At the sight Prince Ivan shed bitter tears: how could he ever find that egg in the sea? But suddenly a pike swam up to the shore with the egg in its mouth. The prince broke the egg, took out the needle, and set to work to snap its point. As he snapped it Kashchey the Deathless struggled and writhed. But he could do nothing: the prince snapped off the point of the needle, and Kashchey died.
Then the prince went to Kashchey’s white stone palace. The wise Princess Vassilisa ran out to meet him, and kissed him on his lips. So Prince Ivan and Princess Vassilisa returned home, and they lived happily to a ripe old age.

Reading, empathy and compassion…

“I think the act of reading imbues the reader with a sensitivity toward the outside world that people who don’t read can sometimes lack. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms; after all reading is such a solitary, internalizing act that it appears to represent a disengagement from day-to-day life. But reading, and particularly the reading of fiction, encourages us to view the world in new and challenging ways…It allows us to inhabit the consciousness of another which is a precursor to empathy, and empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being.”

( John Connolly,   “The Book of Lost Things” )

from “Eureka! Engineers aren’t empathetic because they can’t be”

* * *

“Though people in all cultures can react sympathetically to kin, friends, and babies, they tend to hold back when it comes to larger circles of neighbours, strangers, foreigners, and other sentient beings. In his book The Expanding Circle, the philosopher Peter Singer has argued that over the course of history, people have enlarged the range of beings whose interests they value as they value their own. An interesting question is what inflated the empathy circle.

And a good candidate is the expansion of literacy.

Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions. As we shall see, “empathy” in the sense of adopting someone’s viewpoint is not the same as “empathy” in the sense of feeling compassion toward the person, but the first can lead to the second by a natural route. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow has a first- person, present-tense, ongoing stream of consciousness that is very much like your own but not the same as your own. It’s not a big leap to suppose that the habit of reading other people’s words could put one in the habit of entering other people’s minds, including their pleasures and pains. Slipping even for a moment into the perspective of someone who is turning black in a pillory or desperately pushing burning faggots away from her body or convulsing under the two hundredth stroke of the lash may give a person second thoughts as to whether these cruelties should ever be visited upon anyone.

Adopting other people’s vantage points can alter one’s convictions in other ways. Exposure to worlds that can be seen only through the eyes of a foreigner, an explorer, or a historian can turn an unquestioned norm (“That’s the way it’s done”) into an explicit observation (“That’s what our tribe happens to do now”). This self- consciousness is the first step toward asking whether the practice could be done in some other way. Also, learning that over the course of history the first can become last and the last can become first may instill the habit of mind that reminds us, “There but for fortune go I.”

The power of literacy to lift readers out of their parochial stations is not confined to factual writing. We have already seen how satirical fiction, which transports readers into a hypothetical world from which they can observe the follies of their own, may be an effective way to change people’s sensibilities without haranguing or sermonizing.

Realistic fiction, for its part, may expand readers’ circle of empathy by seducing them into thinking and feeling like people very different from themselves. Literature students are taught that the 18th century was a turning point in the history of the novel. It became a form of mass entertainment, and by the end of the century almost a hundred new novels were published in England and France every year. And unlike earlier epics which recounted the exploits of heroes, aristocrats, or saints, the novels brought to life the aspirations and losses of ordinary people.

Lynn Hunt points out that the heyday of the Humanitarian Revolution, the late 18th century, was also the heyday of the epistolary novel. In this genre the story unfolds in a character’s own words, exposing the character’s thoughts and feelings in real time rather than describing them from the distancing perspective of a disembodied narrator. In the middle of the century three melodramatic novels named after female protagonists became unlikely bestsellers: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748), and Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Hélöise (1761). Grown men burst into tears while experiencing the forbidden loves, intolerable arranged marriages, and cruel twists of fate in the lives of undistinguished women (including servants) with whom they had nothing in common. A retired military officer, writing to Rousseau, gushed: You have driven me crazy about her. Imagine then the tears that her death must have wrung from me … Never have I wept such delicious tears. That reading created such a powerful effect on me that I believe I would have gladly died during that supreme moment.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment extolled the way novels engaged a reader’s identification with and sympathetic concern for others. In his eulogy for Richardson, Diderot wrote: One takes, despite all precautions, a role in his works, you are thrown into conversation, you approve, you blame, you admire, you become irritated, you feel indignant. How many times did I not surprise myself, as it happens to children who have been taken to the theater for the first time, crying: “Don’t believe it, he is deceiving you.”… His characters are taken from ordinary society … the passions he depicts are those I feel in myself.

The clergy, of course, denounced these novels and placed several on the Index of Forbidden Books. One Catholic cleric wrote, “Open these works and you will see in almost all of them the rights of divine and human justice violated, parents’ authority over their children scorned, the sacred bonds of marriage and friendship broken.”

Hunt suggests a causal chain: reading epistolary novels about characters unlike oneself exercises the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes, which turns one against cruel punishments and other abuses of human rights.

As usual, it is hard to rule out alternative explanations for the correlation.

Perhaps people became more empathic for other reasons, which simultaneously made them receptive to epistolary novels and concerned with others’ mistreatment.

But the full-strength causal hypothesis may be more than a fantasy of English teachers. The ordering of events is in the right direction: technological advances in publishing, the mass production of books, the expansion of literacy, and the popularity of the novel all preceded the major humanitarian reforms of the 18th century. And in some cases a bestselling novel or memoir demonstrably exposed a wide range of readers to the suffering of a forgotten class of victims and led to a change in policy. Around the same time that Uncle Tom’s Cabin mobilized abolitionist sentiment in the United States, Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1839) opened people’s eyes to the mistreatment of children in British workhouses and orphanages, and Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea (1840) and Herman Melville’s White Jacket helped end the flogging of sailors. In the past century Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse- Five, Alex Haley’s Roots, Anchee Min’s Red Azalea, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy (a novel that features female genital mutilation) all raised public awareness of the suffering of people who might otherwise have been ignored.

Cinema and television reached even larger audiences and offered experiences that were even more immediate. There experiments that confirm that fictional narratives can evoke people’s empathy and prick them to action. Whether or not novels in general, or epistolary novels in particular, were the critical genre in expanding empathy, the explosion of reading may have contributed to the Humanitarian Revolution by getting people into the habit of straying from their parochial vantage points. And it may have contributed in a second way: by creating a hothouse for new ideas about moral values and the social order.”

(from “The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes” by Steven Pinker)

From Slush Pile Empathy