Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kill Em' Kindness: How Teaching Empathy Curves the Bullying Epidemic

I've been watching quite a few videos on empathy. America seems to be dealing with a huge bullying problem. From our classrooms all the way to Wall Street, people are being pushed around. I've been "researching" if you will, ways to address this bully phenomenon, from attending the National Conference on School Safety and Discipline which might I add, had an abundance of policy makers in attendance and very few teachers...the people closest to the children. They were actually shocked that I (a teacher) had been invited..that's a problem, but I digress. Anyway, it seems that when we focus on attacking this issue, we are being more reactive than proactive. We teach students in school how to react to bullying: tell a teacher, do not fight or argue, tell a parent, etc...There are very few schools who approach this problem by addressing the lack of empathy in the first place. I mean, peer mediation helps with problem solving and addresses empathy to some extent, but only after someone has already been offended. Below is a video about how a school used a baby to "teach" 5 year olds empathy. 

Ever notice how bigger kids interact with younger kids? I've seen my 4 year old niece protect, support, and even teach my 2 year old nephew. Her empathy barometer is on level 10 with him. Even I tend to be more empathetic when I'm dealing with my students or other children. Having to help someone who is more vulnerable or dependent on you increases your ability to empathize.  

Now the next video addresses extending this empathic spirit throughout your life. Understanding how empathy and sympathy differs. To truly empathize, you must feel the pain and the woes of the person you are helping NOT pity them. By pitying them, you have disassociated yourself from their experience. A lot of us do it, thinking, that could never happen to me. Here this video shows us how introspection can be significant to our personal growth, but outrospection is key to building our ability to empathize. It's not very hard. As humans, we're hardwired to want to "belong," already, but in these great civilizations, we've taught ourselves to separate and form "cliques." Don't get me wrong, these small communities do create quite tight unified bonds; however, it also creates outcasts and ostracizes. You can see it in religious affiliations, political parties, ethic groups, gender, and even age groups. Sure, people like you can understand you better, but we often cut off, those who are not "like" us. At the end of the day, we're all human. There has to be a balance.   

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