Teaching Empathy

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately, not just in my students, but also in adults. There’s a lot going on in the world right now and in Canada that gives me hope and that makes me sad about humanity in general and I see my classroom as a little microcosm of that.

There are times when students do things without thinking about the consequences and how their actions will affect others. There are times when adults and world leaders do things without thinking as well. We all do. But how can we fix this problem? How can we help students (and adults) to learn empathy, to not only think but care about the affect their choices have on other.

The other day I was driving and the person in front of me was driving really slowly. This annoyed me because I wanted to get home at the end of a long day but I knew there was nothing I could do about it other than hope that this person was going to turn at some point. And then someone came up behind me and started tailgating me, even though I was not the reason we were going slowly. But I thought, even if I was the reason we were going slowly, how is tailgating me going to help anything? It’s just going to make me upset (which it did) and worry for my safety. I could have moved closer to the car in front of me, but what good would that have done? I could have slowed down and made the person behind me even more frustrated but how would that help? Revenge doesn’t usually make people see the “error of their ways” it just generally makes them more angry and continues the viscous cycle. But it also seems to be very much a part of our human nature, a part that I would like to get away from.

I’m not blameless in this. I’ve had people “wrong” me in some way and I’ve planned out and sometimes even exacted my revenge. It never helps. And it’s funny, you hear people say things like “I’m going to do this because they did that. And then they’ll be sorry!” And does it make the other person sorry? Not that I’m aware of. Revenge doesn’t fix anything.

A few years ago I used this great program with my class for Health that talked a lot about anger management and forgiveness and empathy and how to deal with breaking the revenge cycle. It was really fantastic and I wish I could use it again. I have an older version of the program in my classroom right now that I’m going to try out but it isn’t the same. Other classes in our school are trying out this “Roots of Empathy” program where they bring a baby into the classroom at different times throughout the year and there are lessons all about empathy built around the visits. These are great programs. I hope that teaching our students to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their first reactions will help them to grow into carrying individuals, because goodness knows we could use more like that in this world.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Empathy

  1. IfByYes says:

    Empathy is the single best thing ever. I can’t wait until Owl properly develops it. I can’t tell you how many times he comes running to me complaining that his friend won’t leave him alone, only to come running over half an hour later complaint that the same friend wants to be left alone. *head explodes* and then we need to have a CONVERSATION.

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