(Bob Dylan’s) uncanny relevance comes from reaching as deep into empathy as he can. -- Kurt Gegenhuber
From the Dylan poster on my nephew’s wall to the devoted Dylan fans at Muscle and Bone shows to the calliope of artists who perform and transform Dylan songs, it’s obvious that Dylan’s relevance metric remains high. Gegenhuber says this relevance hinges on empathy.
My latest conversation with empathy started this spring while designing anti-bullying programs for schools. Pre-schoolers just exploring friendship and older kids working out social puzzles test their capacity to occupy someone else’s point of view. If they fail the empathy test, they might fall into the bully trap where they can only find emotional highs by inflicting pain.
It’s not too farfetched to see empathy as the touchstone of a civilized world.
Even as I traveled north to carve out empathy lessons from world folk tales, I happened upon What Good Am I? on a Dylan playlist. I may as well have googled, ‘song that captures the nuance of empathy,’ so perfect is this one for teaching kids to be kids (ie. not bullies).
This is the relevance of Dylan’s work: it illuminates our capacity for human empathy. His characters say things like, ‘You’re right from your side, I’m right from mine,’ and ‘I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too.’ He conjures up sympathetic outliers (Your daddy he's an outlaw and a wanderer by trade) and understudies (The vagabond who’s rapping at your door is standing in the clothes that you once wore). Songs like Hollis Brown and Queen Jane Approximately empathize with their namesakes from start to finish.
Dylan songs team with riotously unorthodox role models with enormous hearts. He lets us experience strangers without judgement, within a frame of tolerance. He eloquently demonstrates how art in the hands of a master fuels our empathy, perhaps our most elegant human instinct.
-- Susan Weber
Painting by Manoel Lopes Rodrigues