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Through Imagination to Sympathy

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A DICTIONARY definition of sympathy is "The quality of being affected by the state or condition of another with feelings correspondent in kind." It is perfectly apparent that a little child is not capable of great sympathy. It is not cruelty which makes him laugh at the writhings of a hurt animal, but the unusual movements which strike him as absurd and which indicate to him no sign of torture. He finds our grimaces of pain amusing. For him we are merely "making up faces"; we are not human beings who suffer. Never having experienced suffering, he cannot sympathize with it.

Must he, then, live through all the experiences in which he can be expected to sympathize? This would push sympathy out of the realm of child-hood. No, nature provides a substitute for experience. Instead of waiting for experience to lead the way to sympathy a child is given the short-cut of imagination. By its magic he is enabled to put himself in another's place. He reacts to the experiences of others. He is born with a marvelous gift. Francis Thompson writes, "Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul."

Stories and pictures arouse the imagination of children, and play is its natural expression. Let us see how through specific stories sympathy is engendered, and how it may be expressed.

The story of Jesus and the Fishermen kindles the imagination, and through pantomime the unsuccessful fishing is made very real. The result is a real sympathy with the fishermen's disappointment and a corresponding reaction to Jesus' helpfulness.

The children relive the Good Samaritan story and through it come not alone sympathy for the hurt man but they enter into the feelings of the Good Samaritan, and through sympathy a desire to be helpful is aroused.

The activities of workmen who minister to children's comfort are shown in pantomime, and the children are enabled to put themselves in their places, which is a pretty good guaranty of consideration.

Through stories of family life the children gain sympathy for the various members of the family. Through pictures the same result is attained.

Through Imagination to Sympathy

Through family plays they become able to appreciate in a small measure mother care and brotherly or sisterly helpfulness.

So through the alchemy of imagination comes the greatest thing in the world sympathy.

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