What We Learn from Works of Fiction

by | Oct 29, 2020 | Learning, Observational learning, Problem solving | 0 comments

A person can learn much from observing others, even fictional others. I had that thought when I watched a TV show based on a true story. At the end of a series of psychopathic acts, a big man attacks a small young woman, Terra, as she leaves her car. She is holding a stuffed backpack in one hand and a leash to her dog in the other. The man grabs Terra and starts slashing at her with a long knife, cutting her at one point.

Terra uses the backpack to block the thrusts, and the dog starts biting the man’s pant leg. The force of the knife blows knocks down Terra. The man bends over to stab her and the dog bites his arm, causing him to drop the knife. Terra grabs the knife and fatally stabs the man. 

At the hospital a police officer expresses surprise at how well Terra handled the attack. Terra replies that she learned by watching Zombie movies. She says she learned from them the concept of kill or be killed. 

Fiction never saved my life, but it did help me complete a dangerous, unpleasant task. When I was doing my one-year clinical psychology internship, I worked for a few months on an inpatient psychiatric unit. One day the head psychiatrist, who had never spoken to me before, asked me whether I would be willing to help put insulation in the attic of his home that weekend. He said the psychiatric residents were coming. 

I knew the request for free labor was inappropriate, but I needed to complete the internship. So I showed up, put on goggles, a mask, and gloves and started piling non-wrapped insulation into a hot, stuffy attic. 

While working, I thought about the movie Cool Hand Luke. Luke goes to prison for drunken misbehavior. Forced into a work gang supposed to make a few kilometers of paved road with no equipment to speak of, Luke notices how slow everyone moves. He gets the idea of doing all the work as fast as possible, just for the fun of it. He works like a madman, and the other prisoners join the action.

In the attic, I became Cool Hand John. I stuffed insulation as fast as I could. The other forced laborers also worked fast. We finished in a hurry and went home. I passed the internship. 

What of importance have you learned from a work of fiction?


Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash


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