Human Nature: the Actions of Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith

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Alfred Adler states, empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another (Alfred Adler). The term empathy describes a wide range of experiences. Emotion Researchers on emotion generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Contemporary researchers often differentiate between two types of empathy: Affective empathy refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling or just feeling stressed when we sense another’s fear or anxiety. Cognitive empathy, sometimes called perspective taking, refers to our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. For example, studies suggest that people with autism spectrum disorders have a hard time empathizing. Empathy seems to have deep roots in our brains and bodies, and in our evolutionary history. Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith seem to have their own unique perspective of the world, and it is crucial to personally understand how others perceive the world.

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In Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, we see varieties of empathy brought together by different characters. Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith play important roles in the novel and bring very different personality types into the clan. While being welcomed into the clan, Mr. Brown institutes a policy of compromise, whereas Mr. Smith is uncompromising and strict. Mr. Brown begins his time with the clan by fully understanding and demonstrating open-mindedness towards the Igbo clan and their beliefs. Mr. Brown restrains overeager members of his church from provoking clan members; evidence that supports his shared beliefs with the Igbo people in the value of peaceful relations. He makes a friend of many great men of the clan who begin to listen to and understand his message. He also discusses religious beliefs with Akunna, a clan leader of Umuofia. Whenever Mr. Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his obi talking through an interpreter about religion (Achebe 179). Mr. Brown wanted to do whatever he could to help the clan reach its full potential and gain respect from clan members all at the same time. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, is disrespectful and not understanding of Igbo beliefs.

Reverend Smith is a stereotypical fire-and-brimstone preacher. He saw things as black and white. And black was evil (Achebe 184). Mr. Smith saw the world as a battlefield and nothing else. In an effort to better the clan, Mr. Brown thinks that it is best to start building on the land that the clan had, in an attempt to better the future of the clan. And so he built a school and a little hospital in Umuofia (Achebe 181). Mr. Brown approached different families and begged people to send their kids to his school. To enhance his chances of creating a school, he promised families that future leaders would become the men and women who were able to read and write. Eventually, Mr. Brown’s school was a success and many people came to learn. He began encouraging the students to keep attending school and learning with small gifts such as singlets and towels. Instead of helping the community grow, Mr. Smith insists that everyone convert to Christianity and reject all other beliefs. Because of his narrow-minded manner, he incites converts to become overzealous about these new beliefs. Mr. Smith demonstrates his intolerance of Igbo beliefs when he suspects a woman convert from the Christian church who followed traditional custom regarding her dead Ogbanje child. After Enoch, a zealous convert, starts a conflict during an Igbo ceremony, the egwugwu, or ancestral spirits of the clan, burn Enoch’s compound and then move onto the church compound.

Reverend Smith, who has no idea why the egwugwu are upset, is unharmed only because of Mr. Brown’s previous empathy in relation to the Igbo people and his understanding of their beliefs. The egwugwu destroy Reverend Smith’s church. Cosmopolitanism is an adventure and an ideal: but you can’t have any respect for human diversity and expect everyone to become cosmopolitan (Cosmopolitanism xx). Mr. Smith displays no respect for human diversity because he wants the clan to associate with one religion even though that is an uncommon situation. Although most readers believe that Mr. Brown is the better of the two men because of his understanding for other people, some believe that Mr. Smith was actually helping the clan by making them come together as a whole. Appiah states, Cosmopolitans suppose that all cultures have enough overlap in their vocabulary of values to begin a conversation. But they don’t suppose, like some universalists, that we could all come to an agreement if only we had the same vocabulary (Cosmopolitanism 57).

Mr. Smith could possibly think that because the clan is close and has similar vocabulary, they will be able to make an easy transition into Christianity as a whole. This doesn’t work because everyone in the clan wants to have their own religious views and are hesitant to convert to Christianity. Mr. Brown is the first missionary to Umuofia. He does not attempt to persuade the clan forcefully into his way of thinking but rather works with them, respecting their tradition and helping them to build the future. He tries to understand and respect the people. Mr. Smith, the Reverend, is the opposite. When he replaces Mr. Brown, his goal is to force them to become Christian, even through devious means of getting them to question and hate one another. He gives no respect for their traditions, but rather wants to force them into his own tradition. The District Commissioner is a government official, not a religious one. At the same time that he does not show the same cruelty as Mr. Smith, he is equally disrespectful of the clan’s traditions, believing he already understands them. He treats them not as humans but as something to study. When it comes to empathy, treating other humans like humans is a big factor. Placing yourself in an individual’s shoes and being fully capable of understanding their situation is the true definition of empathy.

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Human Nature: The Actions of Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith. (2020, Mar 06). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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