Common reading lecture argues for empathy over hostility

By Kelsey Rogers, Assistant Living & Arts Editor

Writer Hanna Rosin approached the idea of answering hostility with warmth in the common reading lecture on Oct. 2 in Weber Chapel.

Rosin, a journalist and co-host of the National Public Radio’s show “Invisibilia,” ad- dressed the class of 2021 along with other students and faculty members on her report, “How a Danish Town Helped Young Muslims Turn Away from ISIS,” which appeared in this year’s common reading anthology, Perspectives on Conflict.

The report began with a story to explain the concept of “non-complementarity,” where individuals respond to interactions or arguments in a way they would not do initially. In other words, instead of fighting fire with fire, fight it with flowers: answering anger with kindness.

In the story, eight individuals are having a dinner party when suddenly, a man shows up with a gun and demands money or else he’ll begin to shoot. The problem was that nobody at the party

had any money. They immediately grew desperate, thinking of anything they could in order to get the armed man to change his mind. The daring moves that one of the guests made as a gun was pointed at her was to offer the man on the other side of it a glass of wine.

The element that makes the story told on Rosin’s report seem so odd is that the man did in fact sit down and enjoy a glass of wine. He later asked for a hug from the group and left.

This story was a way to introduce “non-complementarity” before introducing it on a larger scale with the report of “How a Danish Town Helped Young Muslims Turn Away from ISIS.” Law enforcement in a town in Denmark reached out to any young Muslims who had decided to join ISIS (Islamic State group) and offered them the option of being able to return home. When the young individuals arrived, they weren’t met with prison time, but rather medical care and coffee with the chief of police.

Rosin took the audience through the process in which she investigated and reported the story.

“The first thing we did was create an opening to the story that was fairly mysterious,” Rosin said. “We’re just trying to get you to feel a universal sense of fear the way any horror movie would.”

The opening reports that 25 children have gone missing over a period of two weeks. Rosin began with this statement to make the listener realize that this event is a real, scary thing.

“Why do we do that? We do that because we want you to care,” Rosin said.

Another trick to creating a great story, according to Rosin, is creating a character that people care about. They do not need to agree with the character’s choices, or sympathize, but simply understand them.

The character Rosin chose was Jamal, a teen who was accused of being a terrorist and as a result had his online profiles searched, his home raided and as a result was not able to take his exams for high school. Jamal had to repeat some high school classes to graduate and his mother died of a heart attack shortly after. The obstacles Jamal faced led him to decide to join the terrorist organization.

“You might think he overreacted to what happened to him, but let me ask you this question: do you understand what happened to Jamal?” Rosin said. “You are looking for a character whose motivations are rich and complex.”

First-year student Cameron Jacoby said that the Rosin’s lecture was very eye-opening.

“The text itself wasn’t a hard read,” Jacoby said. “However, when she explained how she makes her stories and her characters the way she does, it helped me understand why she wrote it the way she did.”

Tamara Ozlanski, a faculty member in University Relations, said that Rosin did an excellent job with relating her experiences in reporting the story to situations others can find themselves in.

“I thought she did such a wonderful job of telling the human experience in a way that we could all understand it,” Ozlanski said.

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