Droppings May 15, 2011
Empathy; do we all have it?
“The capacity for consciousness of ourselves gives us the ability to see ourselves as others see us and to have empathy with others. It underlies our remarkable capacity to transport ourselves into someone else’s parlor where we will be in reality next week, and then in imagination to think and plan how we will act. And it enables us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s place, and to ask how we would feel and what we would do if we were this other person. No matter how poorly we use or fail to use or even abuse these capacities, they are the rudiments of our ability to begin to love our neighbor, to have ethical sensitivity, to see truth, to create beauty, to devote ourselves to ideals, and to die for them if need be. To fulfill these potentialities is to be a person.” Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, pp. 74-76
Empathy is a very difficult word to discuss. For many it does not exist and others actually live by this simple word. As I look at May’s idea of empathy which is a capacity for consciousness I consider we are all conscious I would think. But it is being able to see and feel in someone else’s shoes that is the key to this consciousness. Love perhaps becomes an integral aspect of empathy. In my own views I feel empathy is crucial to any field dealing with people be that nurses, teachers, pastors and all who touch lives. For these folks empathy is a must and it is that gift that allows us to be closer and to be able to touch the soul of another.
“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession” Sophocles
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Scott Adams
“Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.” Mother Theresa
Key aspects of empathy are kindness, love, and caring and these are all positive attributes of empathy. Adams says there is a ripple effect. I have over the years used the illustration of a pebble in the pond story many times. When you toss a pebble into still water and the ripples emanate out from the point of contact going till they hit the edge of the pond and in effect they return only colliding with the ripples still in coming. That small act does continue many times over. Several years ago a movie was made of small acts of kindness and the impact on a community I always think what if.
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” Kahil Gibran
“…successful learners also have insight into the motives, feelings, and behavior of others and the ability to communicate this understanding–in a word, empathy.” B. F Jones, The New Definition of Learning: The First Step to School Reform
“Understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts and motives of one are readily comprehended by another.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
A simple word that can be so powerful if put to use. Empathy can be a tool for teachers, nurses, pastors and a key to the heart and souls of others. Recently in defining my own philosophy of teaching I used the word empathy as a key aspect of my own personal belief in teaching. Having empathy makes for a more meaningful and believable teacher. I was talking with a good friend the other day and discussing consequences. I have never given detention in ten years. I asked is detention a meaningful consequence? What if it is for talking in class as he was writing slips for detention? Well what else do I do? My answer was having class so intrigued they are not talking and mesmerize them to a point of attention.
Most consequences are due to not teaching and not empathizing with students. Trusting, understanding, and caring these are keys to successful teaching. I was asked about referrals and in school suspension and out of school suspension. I have found nine times out of ten writing a referral and waiting a few days for a consequence effectively negates the consequence so why not deal with in class unless it is such that needs immediate response. If the issue is serious enough and requires attention and immediate action; then go directly to administration. But more often than not with empathy it is not even happening so often it is seeking attention or a plea for help.
“In addition to the shared feeling and accurate understanding dimensions of empathy, some writers also focus on the empathetic person’s communication of understanding to the person whose “internal frame of reference” he or she has grasped.” Kathleen Cotton, SIR, Developing empathy in children and adults
“Regardless of conflicting views about the appropriate place, if any, of “values education” in the schools, people are generally able to agree that developing this capacity to understand, appreciate, and communicate meaningfully with others is an important and desirable goal. This enables us to move away from our differences of opinion about the specific CONTENT of “good character,” focusing instead on the PROCESS whereby people come to care about one another and communicate that caring through their behavior. “Kathleen Cotton
One of those times I wished I could say I wish I had said that maybe some day. So often we forget that this interaction with others is so critical to success in life. Not only in school but when you walk out the door to your home and to the store. Each moment we are alive we interact with others unless we sit on a mountain top somewhere contemplating about the passing of a cloud although that is not a bad thought. I wonder if there is a decent pay scale for that position. We interact and if those interactions are in an understanding way and I think it is empathy. So much more will be gained by both people. Kathleen Cotton writes further about developing empathy in students and adults and perhaps this is something we should be pursuing. Maybe we all should try and empathize a bit more and maybe then I would not be offering daily please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.