Reading literary fiction improves empathy. Deep characterization in novels is memorable in part because these characters disrupt our expectations, undermine our prejudices and stereotypes.
Your invisible alligator goes to school with you. . . you are at your desk when your bully comes down the aisle with malicious intent. With a flick of your invisible alligator's invisible tail, your bully's feet are flipped forward and up. . . You are tempted to laugh. However, you know that laughing at the misfortune of others is a kind of bullying, so instead, you look in your heart for some sympathy. . . Your bully persists. Your invisible alligator resists. Soon, you no longer have to put a look of concern on your face because, in your heart, you are concerned, and the look comes without bidding. . . Despite all of this, your bully continues his attacks. . . your invisible alligator could simply put an end to all of this with a snap of his mighty jaws, but your invisible alligator knows that causing harm may feel good for a time, but regret will long outlast the satisfaction of revenge. . . "Hey," you say to your bully one day. You've walked down the aisle towards the back of the room where your bully prefers to sit. . . In his eyes, you can see a mix of wariness and fear. . . You want him to know that you will not become a bully yourself. . . You look at your bully with kindness in your eyes and a smile on your lips. You hold out your hand to him. You think your invisible alligator would be proud of you.
(Look for Michael Allard's "Change to Believe In," upcoming in the Fall 2016 edition of Bacopa Literary Review)