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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Brush up your imagination

Rika Kayama

For someone who spends most of her time in contact with patients, I enjoy giving lectures to university students as a change of pace.

    I feel a generation gap with students because I'm about the same age as their parents or even older, but I feel that gap most on whether their parents or teachers had experienced World War II.

    One of my junior high school teachers came back to Japan after spending the war period in Manchuria. During a social studies class, the teacher tearfully talked about coming back Japan after the war. We students at the time imagined the hardship the teacher experienced getting home. Meanwhile, I can only convey what happened to Japan during the war by quoting those who experienced it, including this teacher.

    It is very difficult to imagine something you've never experienced yourself, and harder still if you can't hear it directly from someone who has. A popular all-girl pop unit recently appeared on stage dressed in what looked like Nazi uniforms, attracting the highly critical attention of overseas media. Some of my students said they do not really understand what was wrong with it.

    If I had been alive during World War II, I could have told my students about problems involving the Nazis by linking the issue to my wartime experiences, saying things like, "Germany was Japan's ally, but I was shocked when I heard about the Holocaust." But, as someone who did not experience the war, I can't. While showing my students a film and having them read a relevant book, I felt chagrined when I wondered if they would understand that the Nazis committed one of the worst crimes in human history.

    This is obviously the case with news coverage. Once a newspaper publishes an article on a tragedy, the paper must have readers exercise their imagination to the maximum extent to understand what happened. There may be some readers who do not feel anything, taking in only the reported facts such as casualty figures.

    Whenever I give a lecture to elementary and junior high school teachers, I ask these educators to help children acquire the ability to imagine the feelings of people whom they have never met, or people of the past. I believe one thing that separates humans from animals is that we can empathize with people who are not in front of us.

    I always wonder how I can have my students imagine how people with mental illnesses and their families feel, and how the students would feel if they were in the same position. I also want to try to brush up my imagination to prevent it from deteriorating. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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