Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It’s the impetus for creating change. ~Max Carver
As an educator for two decades, I can honestly say that I have put a great deal of pressure on myself (and probably colleagues) to support all of my learners to develop self-compassion and empathy for others. Sadly, it appears as though the balance between compassion of self and of others, especially those that are very different from ourselves, is out of whack; it may even be dwindling.
Devolution of Empathy
Healthy role models for our younger generations are evaporating to be replaced by popular culture, music, film, and social media. The hedonistic what’s in it for me? lifestyle continues to market to younger and younger demographics. The looking inward to the self is reaching epidemic proportions. We simply care less for each other and at times even less for ourselves.
Imagine how different the world would be if [formal education consisted of] reading, writing, arithmetic, [and] empathy? ~Neil deGrasse Tyson
The rationale can no longer be ignored. Now more than ever educators must accept and assume a massive role in the modeling of self-compassion for oneself and empathy for their students. This is done simply through modelling healthy empathetic relationships with colleagues, parents, and of course, our students themselves.
The most powerful (and still underutilized) empathy curriculum found in many elementary school in British Columbia is The Roots of Empathy program that was launched in 2000. Our school uses it in the Kindergarten-Grade 1 (aka Seedlings) program. Some school stakeholders have argued for its implementation across our entire K-9 learning environment. You’re never to old to learn about the how and why understanding the other is the ultimate life-hack.
Understanding Over Tolerating
I have heard colleagues as recently as three years ago discuss the urgency for young people to develop tolerance. To be more tolerant of differences, that is. Unfortunately, tolerance does not ask for the witness to understand or put themselves into the shoes of the other. It offers no context. But rather tolerance says to its adherents, ‘you don’t have to like the other, just leave them to do their thing’. In the long run, teaching tolerance leads to an even greater lack of understanding, a greater distance, misuse of context, and, ultimately, a loss of compassion for self and others. It is no a win-win proposition.
Our school motto is a focus on the education of the ‘whole child’. We take that mission quite seriously. We put an enormous amount of time building and supporting the social, emotional, and through heart-led pedagogy. The addressing empathy and self-compassion are requisites in this work. And as our school year winds up and we turn our focus towards September (yes, many teachers do think about the fall at this time of year), no doubt, part of our planning discussions will revolve around empathy and self-compassion as focal points.
With our planet under the pressures of climate change, out of control pollution, dying oceans, and suffocation on a plastic-driven economy, we can no longer discuss the merits of empathy and compassion. Teaching empathy curriculum is no longer an option. Ignoring it is a simply a dereliction of duty by the twenty-first century educator.