The Power of Empathy
One student in particular was driving me absolutely nuts. She would storm into my last period every day for the most of the autumn, slam her backpack on a desk, and yell that she despised my class, wasn’t stupid, and didn’t belong in the class. She would do this until the end of the semester (eighth-grade reading intervention). She refused to do anything and teetered on the edge of being disruptive during the entire meeting. I made repeated attempts to connect with her (I’ll refer to her as T.), but she always seemed to put up a barrier that made it difficult for us to communicate. In response, I became aware of a tightening in my chest. To be really honest, my first thought was, “You’re going to be a pain. Fine. I don’t care either, just be silent.”
Then, in the beginning of winter, there was a minor incident that assisted me in locating a source of empathy for T. And what I came to realise was that developing empathy for others, such as my pupils, my coworkers, and my superiors, helped me feel better about myself. It enabled me to have more energy as a result. It assisted me in overcoming obstacles.
THE POWER OF EMPATHY
Feeling sympathetic with other people enables us to connect with them on a deeper level and have a better understanding of how they see the world. This trait is frequently cited as a requirement for being considered a morally upstanding individual. It’s not the same as having compassion for someone, which is when you look in on someone else’s suffering from the outside and feel sorry or sad for them. This is not the same thing. To experience empathy is to feel the suffering of another person or to see the world through their eyes. Additionally, it provides the foundation for compassion, which can be defined as “empathy put into action” or “a dedication to doing something that reduces the pain of another person.”
The development of empathy for others is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that it can improve one’s own quality of life. The ability to empathise with another person not only makes it possible to feel greater sentiments, but it also makes it easier to deal with challenging situations. When we develop empathy for other people, we gain a deeper understanding of other people and are better able to connect with them. This increases our resilience, which is the capacity to persevere in the face of adversity.
This is what ended up happening with T. I gave the following question as a writing assignment to the kids and asked them to quickly respond in writing: “If a genie could give you one wish, what would it be?” T. penned a story in which a genie would provide her with new wardrobe items. She talked about how she was outgrowing her clothes, how her family was poor, and how it made her feel ashamed to go to school wearing pants that she knew didn’t fit and bursting out of her shirts every day. She also mentioned how her family had no money. According to what she stated, she had experienced a significant growth spurt, and all she needed was clothing that suited properly.
I pondered, “What must something like that be like for a girl of 13 years old?” I thought back to the years when I was in my early teens. I tried to picture myself wearing her clothes. I experienced some of the emotions that I thought she must be going through.
I responded with a brief message expressing empathy for the situation. She replied and shared with me that her grandmother had been ill, as well as that her mother had a developmental disability. I answered your letter. She provided a response and went on to give more. Even while she still had a temper when she entered the classroom, it was much more easily controlled. I also realised that her rage didn’t bother me as much, that I smiled at her in a genuine way, and that I was able to honestly tell her, “It’s great to see you today.”
It is unrealistic for us to anticipate that having empathy for other people will cause them to alter their actions simply because we feel it. We can only hope that by traversing the treacherous terrain of empathy within ourselves, we will be able to get a deeper understanding of both ourselves and the people around us.
AN EMPATHY EXERCISE
Building empathy is a skill that can be developed through a variety of means. Try your hand at this particular activity: Determine a person who irritates you or who you have a hard time getting along with in general. This person could be a fellow employee, a student, or even the manager. Make an undercover effort to snap a picture of the subject’s footwear with your mobile device. If you are unable to accomplish this, you should concentrate on the shoes that they are wearing and either make a mental note of them or perhaps draw a drawing of them.
Imagine going through the day as though you were in this person’s position and doing all they do. Imagine them putting on their shoes in the morning, going to school, going through their day, leaving school at the end of the day, returning home, and so on by using whatever information you know about them. Take some time at the end of the day to write down your thoughts. How would you describe the experience? How did you feel? What changes have you noticed in the way that you think and feel towards the other person?
To have empathy, you must first learn to open your heart. I am aware that you may be finding this to be challenging, but I am also aware that our hearts are capable of holding a lot of love. This is something that can be done in a variety of contexts by teachers, and the development of empathy as a practise can actually make our jobs as educators simpler.