Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teaching Empathy...A Reflection



Compassion and empathy are two things I value very dearly in life. In fact, I think they are some of the most important things we should be teaching and modeling for our students. Yet they are very different. Read the following definitions below (gleaned from Dictionary.com)

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
 
Empathy:  the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

The two capped words speak volumes to the difference. While it is crucial to think compassionately, it is essential to practice empathy. Compassion is a much more passive activity. It is a feeling for somebody, a recognition of one's struggles. Yes, this may affect decision making and lead to action, but it is not as powerful as empathy. 

Empathy calls for people to actually try and experience the feelings and thoughts of a particular person or group. The best way of putting this is walking a mile in their shoes. Empathy is a call to intimately place yourself in the mind and heart of another person. If this is really done, it has the unmistakable ability to foster action and critical thought to complex problems.  Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.







I wrote those words nearly four years ago. Time flies. Over those four years I have learned a ton, overcome setbacks, and launched some big projects. I am truly grateful for where I am today. As much as I have changed and evolved over those four years, I continue to cultivate a practice of empathy. Practice is the key word. I am not perfect, but this practice is one of the most important facets of my life. The more I practice empathy, the more joy and gratitude I carry in this life.

But enough about me. Recently, I came across the above post as I scanned older parts of my blog. I reread the above post more than a few times. I sat and reflected on my practice as an educator. Am I currently expressing this practice of empathy with my students? Am I modeling the practice of empathy as I teach? Am I teaching empathy? Can you teach empathy?

I though about recent events. I thought about Eric Garner. I thought about Michael Brown. I thought about my students' questions. I thought about world problems. I thought about Nigeria. I thought about Syria. I thought about Egypt. I thought about Greece. I thought about ISIS. I thought about Los Angeles. I thought about inequality. I thought about climate change. I thought about the endless problems in the world.



Am I doing enough for my students?

To be honest, I am not sure. How can we teach and practice empathy with students today? Is it social media? Is it mindfulness? Is it community action? Is it conversation? Is it Skype? I would love to hear what you think.

I may be a bit older, but I still believe what I wrote:

Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.















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