TEACHING EMPATHY

Almost as a postscript to the blog I wrote September 26 – days before all the major television networks and CNN’s Anderson Cooper began to initiate programs addressing bullying in our schools after several recent teen-age suicides – there is now a push to enact laws, create consequences for those who bully, and to educate parents, students, and teachers.

The bottom line is that teaching empathy starts at birth and learning to act with empathy defines individuals. It is one of the key attributes of a civilized life and therefore one of the key reasons to give it our attention NOW!In interviewing those who have suffered and survived the pain of having been bullied as well as the few converts who were once bullies and somehow changed their lives around – what became painfully clear to me is what bullies and sex addicts share in common. Both objectify the person (their drug) to the point of never having a relationship with that person other than that of self-gratification. It is one which never includes the other person’s essential being and soul. In short, the bully objectifies his victim(s) by never seeing them as people with feelings, just as the sex addict objectifies his partner of the moment. The consequences of such abuse are never considered. Harm to the self or to another is never thought about, never a part of the equation … and with the the bully, his/her focus is on the power received from humiliating the chosen victim (object).

We all have witnessed the behavior of children who at a very young age are cruel to their peers and unable to share what they have or to play fairly and respectfully. We have also seen children who have the ability to react to situations and to people with the sort of caring that is both touching and impressive.

Undoubtedly, those who are kind and able to share their toys learned such lessons in their family and were taught them not by lectures but by example.

Now in 2010 , it seems it has taken several teen suicides to convince the powers that be to develop educational curricula which will teach parents, educators and students the necessary methods with which to prevent bullying in it’s many forms. The goal is to have empathy extend to those who are like us, those who are different, and the world at large. And while such teachings ideally begin in the home, they must be echoed in our schools, in the workplace and in every area of our lives.

Children who are loved unconditionally and taught to respect their siblings, parents, grandparents and friends, learn how to put themselves in other people’s shoes and to express feelings of empathy, acting in ways that demonstrate that they are not at the center of the universe where everything and everyone revolves around them. They have not been over-indulged to the point where they feel they have the right to “call the shots,” to decide what’s right and wrong. They have a sense that there are times when sacrifices are made and deeds are done for those less fortunate than themselves, and, in so doing, they are expressing their humanity in ways that speak for how they are likely to mature as adults. Their behavior toward others is unlikely to include the need to take advantage of another person’s racial or sexual difference, intellectual talents or mental defects. What will drive them instead will be the strength gained from being kind and extending themselves to help others rather than to harm them.

Although it seems to have taken the tragic acts of suicide to awaken us, it is now our responsibility to reward those who lend helping hands and exhibit thoughtfulness and respect of others, while recognizing the first signs of cruelty toward others and then taking appropriate actions to punish such behavior.

Needless to say, this is as true for cyber-bullying, bullying in the workplace and abuse of any kind in any context.

I believe teaching EMPATHY is every bit as important as teaching any academic subject.

Do you agree?

Yours,
Linda

Please visit my website at http://www.applemanshapiro.com/ to learn more about my work as a psychotherapist and oral historian. You can also purchase my memoir, FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS, directly from this site (with no fee for mailing).