I expected the answer to be “by articulating multiple sides of a debate”, in this recent UTNE article by William Bradley.
Instead, his conclusion is that
A careless reader can cast aside Tolstoy’s story [“The Death of Ivan Ilych”] as “merely made-up,” but no one can deny that E.B. White really existed, and really contemplated time and mortality on the trip he described in his essay “Once More to the Lake.”
Also mentioned and explained in his article:
the truly great personal essays by the likes of Michele de Montaigne, William Hazlitt, and Virginia Woolf...George Orwell...
...the act of reading these essays and interacting with these minds on the page is the closest thing we have to telepathy in the real world.
Part of the reason why I care so much about issues pertaining to racial justice is that reading James Baldwin’s experiences and thoughts in “Notes of a Native Son” and “Stranger in the Village” made the issue vividly real...
It’s likewise impossible to believe in homophobic caricatures of gay men’s predatory sexuality after reading an account of growing up gay as sensitive and affecting as Bernard Cooper’s “A Clack of Tiny Sparks.”
The idea that women who have abortions are by nature selfish or unreflective is belied by essays like Debra Marquart’s “Some Things About That Day.”
Similarly, unlike some of my liberal humanist friends, I know from reading David Griffith’s reflections on his Catholic faith in his essay collection A Good War is Hard to Find or Patrick Madden’s discussions on his own Mormon faith in his collection Quotidiana that there is nothing inherently reactionary or intolerant about subscribing to a religious faith.
Michele de Montaigne, the 16th century writer and philosopher who gave this form its name, observed that “Every man has within himself the entirety of the human condition.” Read an essay by the likes of Ira Sukrungruang, Eula Biss, Gayle Pemberton, or Jill Talbott every day or two, and you’ll find that idea easy to remember.
The first commenter on the above article references a recent Scientific American article By Julianne Chiaet reporting:
Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.