When was the last time you felt a guttural reaction to something you heard or saw? The pang that makes you think “augh” or fills your chest with the warmth of happiness…that vicarious experience of empathy is what we hope to encourage in all of the individual teens we work with.
What may seem like an old concept is gaining new momentum in the theories of how we can truly change the world to be a happier, loving and more united place. Empathy, which is the identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another, though similar to sympathy, goes one step further. Sympathy simply creates a relationship between persons or things whereas the act of empathy moves one to deeply experience another’s emotions. Empathy causes us to act or prevent actions and it helps us to understand how others may be struggling which can then lead to solutions or a commitment to help. This is how we can change the world.
Empathy can be facilitated in numerous ways. Parents can teach empathy at a young age by always posing the question or mindset of “how do you think that makes them feel?” When they take a toy from their friend, this tactic helps kids to think critically about their actions and the repercussions it has on others.
During the teenage years, teachers and youth-leaders can help facilitate understanding through well-integrated community service learning, a learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. This type of teaching, when student-led, can have reverberating effects in the lives of teens not only at the moment, but years down the road.
If we as parents, practitioners and organizations can facilitate the development of empathy in our children and teens, we are more likely to build caring and thoughtful citizens who are more likely to aid their peers and communities. Empathy is just one of the social and emotional skills that Wyman hopes to encourage through our Teen Outreach Program and Teen Leadership Program through various methods, including close adult support and service learning.
Check out what Ashoka’s Fellows are doing to foster empathy throughout the fields of education and the world.