Developing and applying empathy

March 03, 2017 17:35
In order to understand other people’s feelings, people should be encouraged to learn the full spectrum of emotions from a young age. Photo: HKEJ

As an educator advocating moral education, my top priority is to assist children in developing empathy -- the ability to imagine and share another person’s feelings and experiences as if they were their own.

"Stepping into someone’s shoes" is the best phrase to summarize the concept of empathy. By taking his or her stance, one could better understand another person's situation.

Some people might mix up sympathy and empathy but they are two distinct concepts.

For instance, people with sympathy and empathy would respond differently when they hear bitter experiences of a friend.

People with sympathy might reaffirm the sufferer's experiences. Those with empathy may offer reassurance, for instance, by saying they could understand how upset the person is.

In other words, people capable of empathy stand side by side with the needy. This trait is exactly what our society should promote.

The following are some ideas for building a caring environment with empathy and compassion:

1) Emotional education

In order to understand other people’s feelings, people should be encouraged to learn the full spectrum of emotions from a young age. They need to know why people exhibit certain emotions and how each particular emotion would trigger certain biological responses or behavior. We could build up a vocabulary of emotions and related adjectives to describe them.

2) Learning by storytelling

Stories are great teaching materials. While in storytelling we are often concerned only with the plots, we could take the chance by asking questions to stimulate thoughts and feelings. Questions such as “how does the protagonist feel now?” and “why does he make this decision?” could help them apply imaginary situations in real life.

3) Learning by experiencing

Actions speak louder than words. By allowing children to understand other people's hardship, we could help them internalize their feelings readily. For instance, we could design some educational tasks in which children are blindfolded. In this way, they get real ideas how the daily life could be for visually challenged people. 

4) Learning by doing

By participating in voluntary activities, children can learn that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Let’s work together to build a more loving and compassionate society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 2.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House