Dear Eanes ISD Community,
When it comes right down to it, I think all of us have a desire to be understood. The way we treat others (human/plant/animal, our planet), is directly connected to our ability to understand another’s perspective or another’s emotions at any given moment. Empathy, the focus of this newsletter, can have different meanings. While at times, some connect empathy and sympathy, most recognize while connected, they come from a different place. Dr. Brené Brown does a wonderful job of making this distinction in the short animation below:
Empathy helps us truly connect with others and those relationships are the building blocks that facilitate our truly caring for one another. The key focus in our Green Glasses initiative is to zero in on the critical elements research tells us help build resiliency in our children and in ourselves. In my first two musings on this topic, we emphasized, Focused Attention and Gratitude. In this edition of the series, our focus is on the third element to help us build resiliency … Empathy.
Dr. Helen Riess, a Professor of Psychiatry, who directs the Empathy & Relational Science Program at Harvard Medical School, speaks eloquently in her TEDx Middlebury talk on the power of empathy. She gives a simple, yet beautiful example of a child showing us true empathy when she describes a moment on an airplane.
“All of us at some point have been on a plane when we have just settled into our novel, we’re listening to music or getting our work done when suddenly the air is pierced by the sound of a shrieking baby. Now I have watched all kinds of reactions to this from the very sympathetic look toward the parents to people who looked mildly annoyed or even frustrated to others literally racing each other to the one empty seat at the front of the plane to get away from this noise.
But on a recent trip to the West Coast, I saw the most amazing reaction of all: a little three-year-old boy wiggled out of his seat, toddled over to that screaming baby and offered him his own pacifier. Wow! I thought — now that little boy really heard and felt that baby’s distress. And isn’t that what all of us want to be seen and heard and to have our needs responded to? That’s the essence of empathy.”
For me, this is a great example of going beyond "walking in another’s shoes" to truly "feeling and understanding" what another is experiencing.
Empathy is so important for all of us in our daily lives. Not only does it allow us to form deeper and more meaningful relationships, but the research is clear: if we truly become more empathic to others, we will also have personal benefit.
In the podcast, “The Hidden Brain,” Shakar Vedantam interviews Stanford psychologist, Dr. Jamil Zaki, who is asked to describe the benefits of empathy and the work that looks at what happens when people receive empathy.
“In many cases, empathy benefits all parties involved. So, for instance, patients of empathic doctors are more satisfied with their care but are also more likely to follow doctors' recommendations, which is important for things like preventative care. And spouses of empathic partners are happier in their marriages.
But one thing that I think people don't realize as much is that people who experience empathy for others also benefit. It's not just receiving it, but giving it helps us too. So, people who are relatively high in empathy, for instance, are less likely to become depressed. Feeling empathy for others reduces our stress. And adolescents who are able to pick out other people's emotions accurately are better adjusted during middle school. (Listen to the entire podcast: You 2.0: The Empathy Gym)
Our schools continue to support students with the development of empathy and resiliency skills. Recently before the holidays, schools provided an opportunity for students to participate in helping and giving to others. Additionally, our schools continually provide opportunities for students to grow as leaders as they connect with others and learn to respect different perspectives. The understanding of someone else’s perspective helps us gain confidence as we develop our own identity and become more resilient, navigating the challenges we all inevitably face.
So please join my staff and me as we try to promote resiliency in ourselves and our children, to reflect on this third critical element, Empathy. Tomorrow we will don our Green Glasses, to show our support. But hopefully, we will all be a bit more thoughtful as we all grow to become more empathic towards all.