A Brief History of Empathy
Empathy is a rather new discovery and has evolved since its first introduction to the United States in the early 1900’s. The word empathy means “in-feeling”. The Greek “em” means “in” and the Greek “pathos” means “feeling.”
Upon its origination, it was characterized as a person’s ability to project their feelings into the world. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Susan Lanzoni Ph.D., shares a couple of examples of this:
Like any newfound knowledge; time, technology, and curiosity, lead to improved understanding and additional discoveries. As we neared the mid-1900’s psychologists began to consider a person’s empathy for others; the ability to put themselves in others' shoes. Then, in the late 1900’s neuroscientists discovered mirror neurons. This added a new layer of interest and understanding about empathy.
Today, empathy, like curiosity, is riddled with complexity. Social Psychologist C.Daniel Batson, an empathy researcher, explores eight different facets of empathy. His work, while interesting, is far too complex when it comes to our focus on school communities.
Why is this brief history of empathy important for school leaders?
Last week we shared an article, “Help Me Discover Who I Am", about the connection between learner identity development and curiosity. One of the three types of curiosity shared in this article is called empathic curiosity. Empathic curiosity motivates understanding about the thoughts and feelings of other people.
This is where empathy and curiosity collide.
Understanding and practicing empathic curiosity can help your learners be known. It is through this interest and questioning of one another’s thoughts and feelings that opportunities for authenticity and connection are created. However, empathic curiosity will not lead to authenticity and connection without empathy.
The above case is fictitious and uncommon in most school communities. In fact, it is uncommon in life. But, this is where Cultured Kids is making an impact. Within the provided case are the following steps:
However uncommon the outcomes, this scenario is widespread in American schools, especially in diverse metropolitan areas. It is not beholden to food, but is expressed through differences in clothing, areas of interest, customs celebrated, hair products used, languages spoken, and physical characteristics. If any one of the following steps was not executed the opportunity for connection would be lost, trust not established, and the sense of belonging diminished.
While it was Jasmine’s empathic curiosity that created the opportunity for connection, it was her practice of empathy that created the connection. Additionally, her ability to practice empathy required Haru’s vulnerability.
Empathy As A Bridge To Belonging
If vulnerability is present, empathy will be the bridge needed to establish trust. You can easily replace vulnerability with authenticity here. When your learners are confident and understand who they are, they can choose whether or not to share who they are with others. Choosing authenticity means risking physical or emotional harm (vulnerability).
The more your students choose authenticity and practice responding to authenticity with empathy, the more trust will prevail. From this place of trust an increased sense of belonging and greater school unity will follow.
Now, take a moment to transition from your internal perspective (your school community), to an external perspective (the world). Empathy...
Your ability to adopt and practice empathy as a school community will not only foster school unity, but will lay the foundation for your learners to succeed as effective global citizens.
Let's Build Bridges
Apathy is a lack of feeling; to not care. Apathy is the opposite of empathy. Ineffective global citizens will be apathetic. How will they cross the chasm? We need to build bridges of empathy.
While giving a speech at Northwestern In 2006, Barack Obama said, “As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care.”
Understanding that empathy development will become more challenging for learners as they age means that apathy will become easier. Cultured Kids does not exist to merely help kids understand and practice empathy, but to own it! We want empathy to be a part of each child’s way of life. We want children to lead with empathy and to be shielded from apathy.
Cultured Kids sees school communities as a microcosm of the world. This microcosm is not merely an institution to support children's' education, it is a potential model for what is possible to achieve in the world. By partnering with leaders who prioritize empathy, we are ensuring the next generation of world leaders have a chance at effective global citizenship.