Alan Alda honored at Westport Library
Updated 11:43 am, Thursday, June 8, 2017
WESTPORT—Emphasizing the importance of empathy in communicating with people — a central tenet of Alan Alda’s new book — Alda captivated the packed crowd as the Westport Library’s BOOKED for the Evening fundraiser honoree.
In it’s 19th year, the event has seen the likes of Tom Brokaw and Ron Chernow with Alda taking the spotlight this year.
The well-known actor and writer is also known for his humanitarian work and science advocacy. He has won seven Emmy Awards, nabbed three Tony nominations, earned an Oscar nomination and is enshrined in the Television Hall of Fame. Some of his credits include “M.A.S.H.,” “The West Wing” and “The Aviator.”
Promoting his new book “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating,” Alda spoke about the importance of connecting to people, pointing to when directors would implore him to relate better to actors he worked with.
“Directors would tell me to relate better…and then when I got better I could relate to people with my back turned to them,” Alda joked about the skill. He stressed how much it helped a performance, show or movie when he could put himself into the shoes of other actors and empathize with them.
The new book taps into Alda’s keen interest in science and is an extension of the work he started at Stony Brook University, where he founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, aimed at facilitating communication between scientists and the public.
At the Center for Communicating Science, Alda said, they work to “get the scientist to really relate to people” by figuring out what they are thinking and feeling and by “teaching them improvisation.”
When that happens, he said, “The passion comes out of you. Stories come out of you.
“We do have stories and all of our mistakes are our greatest stories,” he added.
Continuing with the thread of empathy as a tool to better understand others, Alda said the same goes for engaging in diplomacy, “You can’t do diplomacy without taking into consideration what the other person is thinking,” he said. “That’s empathy.”
This type of communication also goes for marriages, Alda said. An example he gave was if a husband sees a sink full of dirty dishes late at night, when his wife is asleep, he is probably less inclined to do them. But if the husband feels empathy for the wife having to deal with the dishes the next morning, he is more liable to clean the dishes.
“He’s going to realize washing the dishes is foreplay,” Alda said in jest.
In a story Alda concluded the speech with, he talked about a walk he took with his young grandson in the Virgin Islands where they spoke about evolution, in-depth, for 45 minutes. The next day, Alda’s grandson had another science-related question. When a member of the family suggested he ask his grandpa, the grandson responded, “I’m not making that mistake again.”