The recognition of a cruel act upon another living being is not a result or triumph of education. It is the presence of empathy.
No book, teacher or test can teach you a basic human emotion. But the system can and does break the innate knowledge of human spirit and instinct – it is possible to “unteach” kindness and compassion.
Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.”
Neil Degrasse Tyson
Education, family, society have conspired to create a wall of untruths for young developing minds. We have a crisis of leadership because we shape feelings and futures, instead of nurturing thinking feeling minds.
How do you learn empathy? From the actions of those around you, from freedom of thought and above all from the truth.
You cannot teach warmth, sure you can define it, describe it, explain it. But you can only refine it through action. Start with the voiceless and teach our youth compassion for the down trodden, human or animal. Demonstrate through your words and actions.
The empathic mind is resilient because it recognises diversity is an integral part of the natural world. The mind of an empathic human being closely resembles our animal companions, who work on instinct, and “gut” with a ear to the ground and eyes wide open they recognise “good and bad”.
Unselfish (or as unselfish as the human mind is capable of being) empathic citizens are a lesser burden on society because they do not drain its resources, physical, psychological or monetary. They’re not perfect, nothing is, but they try. And are not afraid to fail, teach your students to fail, and persevere, and extend a hand to all living beings. You’ve created the next generation of empaths.
4 quick tips to “teach empathy by doing”
What: Ditch the zoo field trip if you run or work in a school – caged animals are never an appropriate interaction for an impressionable mind. It teaches imprisonment is acceptable.
Where: Your classroom; partner with a reputed trained animal therapist. Bring an animal into the class room and watch empathy in action, your students will flourish. Watch their confidence grow in the real world as well as the classroom.
Why : If empathy were “taught” in schools, we wouldn’t have an explosion of self help guides, gurus and books. Human instinct is empathic, as an educator encourage it. We exist in a crisis of human uncertainty and despair, because education is singularly focused on a goal, rather than the journey.
Empathy is intangible. You cannot see it, taste it, or touch it. Yet, it matters, as a vital skill to develop. To recognise the danger of ignoring an intangible and its devastating impact on human and animal welfare is a critical skill to develop and nurture.
As we enter ‘unmapped’ territory, our map and compass are mental health professionals. Read more on how they are the ears we need and the voices we must heed as we step out into our new world.