How do you teach empathy? I'm not sure if I have an answer to this question but I would really like to find one. As a parent and as a teacher, sometimes what bothers me more than a kid being mean to another kid or hurting another kid is when the one who did the hurting doesn't even seem to realize or care that it happened. (Anyone with me on this??)
I remember learning in the book "Read-Aloud Family" by Sarah Mackenzie that one of the best ways to teach empathy is through stories. I guess there is something about hearing a story that can take you into another person's feelings, and maybe teach you something about your own feelings, in a way that little else can.
I guess that's one answer - generously tell stories. Read books to your kids and have conversations with them about what they are hearing. How do you think that character felt? Why do you think he/she felt that way? Have you ever felt that way?
I am all for stories and reading aloud to kids, but let me go back for a second to that whole concept of getting into another person's feelings. You know how sometimes with parenting (or probably any leadership role), the thing you find most frustrating in another person might be a clue that there is something within YOU that needs some work?
As much as I feel the frustration of what appears to be a lack of empathy in another person, I'm realizing that I have my own problems with empathy too. Only for me, the struggle tends to be on the other end of the spectrum. Rather than being unaware or cold toward another person's feelings, my default is to be hyper-aware of those feelings, to the point that I absorb them and sometimes without even realizing it, get them all mixed up with my own feelings.
For example, when kid A says or does a mean thing to kid B, suddenly I feel like kid A has said or done that to me. And I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I often react accordingly. Now rather than being able to calmly guide or correct either child, I'm reeling from the effects of whatever action has been done, as though I'm the one who needs to recover.
Is there a better way? Do all of us have a tendency to lean toward either having a severe lack of empathy or extremely too much? And if that is the case, how do we ever learn to find a healthy amount of empathy?
It seems like prayer must have something to do with it. In fact, I'm pretty sure whenever we're asking questions like, what do we do about this or that problem? prayer could always be a decent answer. But what does that prayer look like? Do we just pray, God help us have the right amount of empathy?
Although I want to perfectly demonstrate empathy to my own children and have just the right amount of it for other people in every situation, somehow I have a feeling God isn't going to answer this prayer by just sprinkling out a perfect portion of empathy directly into my heart. Instead, I'm fairly certain the way to ensure I have a healthy amount of empathy has everything to do with how connected I am to God, the One who has created and understands all feelings, mine and those of the people around me.
Maybe it's by design that we tend to drift to one end or the other of the "empathy spectrum" because it's yet another reason for us to keep coming back to God and realigning ourselves over and over again. Whether we are parenting a child, teaching a student, listening to a friend, or responding to an email, we do not have what it takes to empathize or help others to do so on our own.
1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first loved us." Recently my husband and I were talking about empathy and he shared that this particular verse totally changed his way of looking at caring for other people. It's not that we need to figure out how to care more or care less about other people's feelings; rather, it's that the way to effectively love and care for other people comes out of our own awareness and experience of being loved by God.
The next time we find ourselves struggling with empathy, in ourselves or in another person, may we turn back to God. And may we open our hearts to be filled more deeply with His unending love.
Pray with me...
... God, in these final weeks of school, refresh all in the BCS/WCA community with Your unfailing love
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. Psalm 103:11
... when we lack empathy, or when we are overwhelmed by too much of it, let us find our strength in You
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
... please give divine wisdom and guidance to all in BCS/WCA leadership roles, filling them with Your love and enabling them to lead our communities in love
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galations 5:6
Soli Deo Gloria To God alone be the glory
~ Carrie Warner, BCS/WCA Prayer Team Coordinator
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