Houston, we need a tissue

I recently attended a talk where the speaker showed a video clip from “Apollo 13”—the climactic heat-shield scene where the command module re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and, for more than three minutes, the fate of the astronauts is unknown.

Except it’s not.

I’ve seen the movie several times. Even when viewing it for the very first time in the theater, it was still no surprise that Jim Lovell et al. survived. We’d known the outcome since 1970.

So why, each time I see the film (and again recently when watching the short clip), do I get all tense and teary-eyed?

Because it’s not the outcome that I’m responding to. It’s the anguish endured by the families and loved ones of the astronauts. That scene is heartwrenching because I experience, through the talents of actors and storytellers, the excruciating interim of not knowing whether they (I) will ever again embrace their (my) spouse-daddy-son-friend. Those people, over forty years ago, hurt. So I hurt.

The relatively new (and still emerging) scientific findings on mirror neurons are fascinating, and they may help explain the basis for social behaviors and human civilization as we know it. But we don’t need neuroscience to tell us that empathy is powerful. It’s hardwired into us. We live it every day.

A movie…or a story…or a brand…or a person that helps me feel something meaningful and authentic (read: there has to be underlying truth) is persuasive indeed.

There’s a flip side though. If you, the storyteller, don’t feel something genuinely and deeply, how do you expect me to?

A version of this article previously ran on thevinespeaks.com.

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