“Division, Empathy and the Arts” by Masaki Yada

The chasm that has recently been widening in the realm of Western politics seems to me to be, to a certain extent, owed to a lack of empathy amongst people. On a day-to-day basis, xenophobia-ridden rhetoric and blatant lies are ubiquitously thrown and told without any remorse or regards to the rest of humanity. We may, perhaps, be self-serving creatures driven by selfish genes, yet what makes us human is, above all else, our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they are feeling. Indeed, the lack of imagination leads to the poor judgement of others, which creates divisions like the ones we are witnessing today.

In this respect, the arts play an essential role. Even though many liberal arts departments in universities around the world are increasingly losing funding and subsidies from the governments, we must not forget, the culture that encompasses music, literature, philosophy and art is the very thing that has enabled our civilisation to develop far beyond what our early ancestors might have envisioned.

Whether John Keats’ poem or Matisse’s painting, arts allow our mind to wander and expand so that we become able to see new ideas and alternatives that may have passed unnoticed before. Leonardo Da Vinci was not only a painter, but also an inventor and engineer, and his notebooks were full of innovative ideas. In it, flying machines and submarines were sketched out long before their actual invention.

Be it music, art, literature, or theatre, arts stimulate our imagination, while imagination enables arts and science to evolve. Without imagination, there was no Sir Isaac Newton, thus no Michael Faraday, Edison, Tesla, Maxwell or Einstein. Serving as a testament to the power of imagination, our advanced science and technology highlight that our heightened cognitive capabilities often have far-reaching consequences.

Arts do not fulfil our basic needs such as food and shelter, and yet art is essential for our welling-being and helps heal our wounds created by divisions and clash of civilisations. Only if we can understand how the person sitting next to you are feeling, many conflicts would certainly be mitigated. In this respect, the lack of imagination can be the detriment to our own existence as a species. Arts stimulate our imagination, which helps to cultivate our power of empathy, much needed in many fissured societies across the globe today.


Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.

Huntington, S. (1993). The Clash of Civilisations? Foreign Affairs, Vol.72, No.3 (Summer), pp.22-49.

To see my artwork, please visit www.masakiyada.org

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