This wonderful chart below came to my attention one day when I was scrolling through my phone. The word “empathy” really caught my eye.
Before we get going, let’s take a look an an official definition of empathy.
What’s important to distinguish here is the understanding.
To understand how someone is feeling, you must possess the ability to put yourself in their shoes, see with their eyes, and hear with their ears. There is an intrinsic connection to share reactions with feelings. This is key.
You need to be able to put your feelings into words and actions. This is not easy for everyone. Sometimes the words are elusive or the person can’t identify the emotion. To understand this is to offer a gift of being able to identify with another.
An example may be: Seeing a bombing on the news. The scene may play out thousands of miles away and you don’t know any of the people involved but you’re still able to imagine yourself in the circumstance and thereby understand what the people must be feeling or going through.
Take a look at this chart below and ask yourself these questions:
- If you see a person who is crying do you “feel”or relate to their pain?
- Can you understand what someone needs when they are emotional?
- If a baby or child is crying can you identify why and soothe them or do you just feel sorry for them?
- Can you put yourself in someone else shoes/situation even without knowing them?
- Can you understand the merits of a point of view that isn’t your own?
To mirror someone’s feelings is deeper than just standing by the side feeling bad or sorry for someone. It’s about being being able to truly step in and offer a sense of comfort due to a shared perspectives. This empathetic reality acts as a bond between two people and is very special.
Have You Heard of Roots Of Empathy?
My son who is now over 20 years old is one of the kindest and gentlest souls on this earth. He is truly empathic and I wonder how much of it has to do with a program called The Roots Of Empathy. He went to a small rural elementary school where the program was implemented by a teacher doing her Masters Degree.
Roots of Empathy was initially implemented as an inner-city program but it was so successful that they expanded to other areas. The program involves a volunteer bringing a baby into the classroom to act as a catalyst for the instructor led questions and teaching sessions.
The children get the opportunity to understand and discuss how the baby must feel and learn to put words to their own feelings….Like sad, frustrated, happy, etc. The lovely thing about this program is that the empathy is built through a relationship with an infant with the facilitator directing.
The baby is crying. Why is the baby crying? How would you feel if you were hungry? How would you act? What would you do? Do you think the baby is feeling that way? What should we do then? How will our actions change his behavior?
The children also get to witness the empathetic bond between a mother and baby. This special bond is modeled for them as a secure attached relationship between parent and child.
My son had this program every year all the way from K-7. The Roots of Empathy program believes that by building empathy in children, they begin to build a better world. I like that kind of thinking.
If Roots ever comes to your school, embrace the experience, it’s wonderful and the kids get a lot out of it. The website is linked above and you could probably even request training to bring it into your local school. Putting down strong roots builds a solid foundation for growth.
Read through the post again if you didn’t quite get the difference between sympathy and empathy. It’s okay to be both at different times. Taking that extra step (and actually having the ability) to understand and put yourself in the other persons position is powerful because it allows you to connect in a way that you may not have been able to otherwise. The main thing is to go through life and be kind not only to others but to yourself as well.
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