Can We Teach Empathy?

How are we able to teach a feeling, emotion or an understanding of how someone else is is experiencing the world?

Edutopia’s article entitled “Teaching Empathy: Are We Teaching Content or Students?” highlights how empathy is the next wave of learning after tolerance and connectivity.

University of California Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center explains empathy:
The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Ideally, empathy would be the net effect of experience, which in classrooms is a matter of both process and knowledge. Students would learn to empathize rather than be taught to empathize, as a symptom of what they know. Why this is important is a matter of implication and language. Teaching someone to feel what others feel and sit with emotions that aren’t their own couldn’t be any further from the inherent pattern of academics, which is always decidedly other. Teaching always begins with detachment — learn this skill or content strand that is now apart from you. Empathy is the opposite — it starts in the other, and finishes there without leaving.

With some of the suggested questions, we see how Theory U and presencing is coupled with the journey of empathy and discovery, being the questions asked are “Who an I? What is my Self? Who are the silent stakeholders? What if we turned the mirror back on ourselves?”

More than anything else though, empathy is a tone. Broken into parts, it is about self, audience, and purpose. It helps students consider:

• Who am I?

• Who is “other”? And how? In what functions and degrees?

• How do we relate? What do we share?

• What do they need from me, and I from them?

This leads to a staggering and often troubling question for all of us: “What should I do with what I know?”

The next step would be asking what are the missing experiences of the youth today and how can we help them experience it, learn from it and create something to add value to the experience?

Read the full article here

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