Online Journey to a Book Spine Poem

I’m about to share a writing exercise that has the power to inspire even the deadest poet.

But first, how I found it:

The other day a wonderful friend told me about Sam Harris’s podcast with Paul Bloom, where the two talk about Bloom being “against empathy.”

Harris and Bloom are both extraordinary humans who note that empathyfeeling another’s experience—is not particularly productive. It can be exhausting, in fact, and can lead to things like secondary trauma.

Empathy is not a synonym for compassion, they say essentially, so lots of people have it wrong: it’s a misnomer for compassion.

The conversation, as Harris and Bloom explore psychology, neuroscience, morality, meditation, psychedelic drugs, and more, is deeply stimulating, and I might write this weekend more about what I took away from their talk. Cuz I see some exceptions, I feel some affinities, and I have some experience I want to explore.

So halfway through the podcast, I sat down for dinner and found Bloom on Twitter. I came across a tweet about beautiful and strong language, a thing I love as much as an authentic philosophical discussion.

That led me to following Strong Language, which Strong Language describes as “sweary stuff about swearing from a group of linguists, lexicographers, and language lovers.”

Immediately I fell in love.

I landed on a Guardian article by a man who’s swearing off swearing because he doesn’t want his son “to be like the toddler at my friends’ wedding reception who ground everything to a standstill by angrily calling his mum a fuckhead.”


When I LOL I love.

I clicked back to Strong Language and found a tweet about a grammatical debate on the phrase “I agreed the fuck out of it.”

Read, LOL, love.

Cuz I agreed the fuck out of it.

The next day, Stan Carey, who writes for @stronglang, liked my tweet about why a tiny house is a magical dwelling.

I sent him to my friend Becky, who found Stan’s book spine poem.

“We’ve got to do this,” she said, and she did, and hers is beautiful.

Here’s mine:

Book Spine Poem (I had the poem right here on this post at first, but I’ve moved it to a separate post.)


About Erin Harris

I'm a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. I also write about food, travel, music, film, and much more.
This entry was posted in Art, Books, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Online Journey to a Book Spine Poem

  1. Becky B says:

    Heck yeah! This was a fantastically alluring exercise.

    I believe I completely agree about what you found about empathy. Noodling over this: “Empathy is not a synonym for compassion.”

    One of our colleagues is fond of saying how empathy is NOT walking in someone else’s shoes, because you’re still yourself walking in them. Rather, you have to take yourself completely out of the equation and essentially become the other person.

    I can see how that is not a compassionate act at all and that there’s no room for compassion when you’re inside someone’s head feeling what they’re feeling. And how that doesn’t mean that you don’t care.

    Not to write a whole blog post in the comments here, but it is another fascinating topic.


    • Erin Harris says:

      Indeed! For me, our colleague’s definition of empathy backs up what Bloom says–that true empathy is exhausting. Like an actor who “disappears into a role” and takes on the emotions of their character, a caregiver (or anyone) who’s authentically empathetic (to someone who has experienced horror) would have to have some heavy duty resilience practices in place. Anyone with compassion would need those too, but someone with empathy would have to really amp up the coping skills in order to be helpful and productive, rather than overwhelmed.

      Liked by 1 person

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