Fostering the Moral Imagination

Fostering the Moral Imagination

Empathy is a radical act

By Mary Pipher

January/February 2007

Mary Pipher devoted her keynote address at the 2006 Networker Symposium West, held in San Francisco this past October, to exploring how both good writing and effective therapy rely on the ability to move beyond the self to understand how the world looks and feels to another person. She argued that this quality of "moral imagination" was crucial to our ability to face the enormous challenges that face us, not only in our consulting rooms, but in the wider world we share with one another.

I became a writer in my forties. As a girl, I'd always loved books. I read old-fashioned books by Willa Cather, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Pasternak. I learned the poetry of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg and worked constantly to build a better vocabulary. I was surprised when my friends in high school didn't flock to join my club to read all the Great Books.

When I was 10, I told my father I wanted to be a writer. He was a child of the Great Depression and very security conscious. He said, "Writers don't make any money. Be a doctor, like your mother. Then you can support your family if your husband dies." That same year, I wrote a sonnet for my teacher. She gave me a big red C and wrote trite on my paper. I gave up on myself. I thought the world was composed of two kinds of people--the brilliant, charismatic ones and the dull trudgers like me.

I didn't attempt another creative piece until 35 years later.…

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1 Comment

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 1:32:23 PM | posted by Julie
Thank you Mary! I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember too but have not had the confidence that anyone would want to read what I wrote. I am just about to embark on that journey again. At age 62... You give me inspiration!