The Power of Empathy
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. If we were deeply empathetic, we would be able to view the whole world as a common social unit that is not divided by race, language, religion or any other markers. This would give us the mental space to approach the problems of another with a totally free mind and heart, without being coloured by any stereotypes or preconceptions.
A deeply empathetic nature would mean a move towards harmonious relationships (professional and personal), a natural shift towards sustainable lifestyles (as we would become more empathetic to the environment’s needs as well), and overall positive contribution to the world around us.
Empathy is not necessarily an inborn trait – it is developed, much like our skill in reading, writing or math. So, parents and educators can help in nurturing and developing this trait in children from a young age. How do we do so?
Get the child to focus on his/ her emotions: Empathy starts from us – before we begin to understand another, we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves, we must understand our emotions. Children should be made aware of, and given the space to get acquainted with all their emotions, and understand how each emotion affects them. In the Waldorf-inspired system of teaching, special attention is given to the child using his / her “head, heart, and hands”. The heart here refers to the emotional core, and must be a part of the learning process. For example, when a child is frustrated about not being able to solve a problem, it acts as a chance to come to terms with his / her impatience and anger, and learn how to be patient and resilient in the face of delayed success. Once they learn to be patient with themselves, they will be patient with their friends and classmates too. This is the foundation towards developing a deep empathetic core over time.
Using role-play and imagination: History and literature are great tools to encourage imagination based on “What if” scenarios. What if a child of today was to live during the World Wars, when there was severe food shortage? What if we were to go forward 200 years and find that the world melted down due to global warming? What if a child had to imagine being a character that goes through hardship? When children are encouraged to use their imagination and place themselves in such situations, they would be able to empathize with the other’s experiences and mindset more easily.
Setting an example: Educators play a key role in modelling empathy to their students, as they spend a good deal of time with the students and are a major influence in the child’s learning journey. By expressing genuine care and understanding towards students, encouraging them to explore their potential, and engaging with them through one-on-one activities, educators can show children what empathy ‘looks like’ in a real-life setting. Through this, children will be able to absorb and imbibe positive behavioural traits that ultimately help foster a better world for all of us.