Empathy means being able to put yourself in someone else’s place and feel what they are feeling. It is not sympathy, feeling sorry for someone, but being able to understand what they are going through, being able to change perspectives for a moment.
Two childhood experiences helped me develop empathy.
I carefully balanced the last bite of chocolate ice cream cone as I opened the classroom door. I made sure people were looking as I popped it into my mouth. My happiness died as Tony Blevins looked me in the eye and said, “Show off.” Any joy I had in getting out of school for the day with the elementary choir and getting to stop at Dairy Queen before heading back to school was stomped by his glare and hurt. I could see myself as he saw me. I could see how awful and rude I was. They had been working all day and I had shoved it in their faces how great of a day I had had. There was no need for it. It was mean. I got it. My actions were not all about me. Something that might make me happy could make others sad and I wanted to avoid that.
I dug through the cabinet looking. I don’t remember what I was looking for. I just remember what I found. I found a note in a broken dish. I remembered breaking the dish years before. It was an accident, childish playing around in the living room and it had fallen and broken. I never knew it bothered my mom until I read the note in the dish. She had written it right after the incident. I could tell she was mad from her handwriting. The note said how we’d broken the dish and we hadn’t even said we were sorry. I felt terrible. I hadn’t realized it was important to her. I hadn’t realized she was upset. I wondered why she hadn’t said anything that day. I took away a realization that I hurt people sometimes by accident and that it’s always good to apologize.
Empathy is understanding how the other person feels, putting yourself in their shoes. Things are still broken, I can’t change that, but the person knows I care about them and having empathy changes how I react to people. I try to react with kindness and understanding. It makes all the difference.
Kim Blevins is a teacher-consultant with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.
All Bullying Empowerment Failure Federal Mandates Guilt National Writing Project Novel Ozarks Writing Project Shoes Snooze Teachers Teaching Teaching Writing Technology Testing To Kill A Mockingbird Whining Writing