October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The theme of last week's Connections e-newsletter was "Discover Differences." This week our focus is Encourage Empathy.
David's Law went into effect in Texas on September 1 of this year. It is new legislation requiring all schools- public, charter and private- to have bullying prevention and intervention policies for all students. It specifically addresses cyberbullying and expands the school's jurisdiction into off-campus texts and posts that interrupt the educational environment on campus.
This important legislation was named to honor the life of David Molak, who tragically committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied at school and through social media. His parents began a non-profit foundation called David's Legacy to help prevent cyberbullying. David's mother Maurine said she hopes to help other children who are going through similar situations, and encourages all to:
"Teach kids that there's a soul behind that screen, and when you say something mean you don't know what's going on in that child's life. And how much of an impact it can have."
Encouraging empathy means to encourage students to be aware of the "soul behind the screen," and to seek to have a greater understanding of the hurts and challenges that person may be facing.
Empathy means understanding, respecting and responding to another person's hurt or difficulty.
There are three parts to empathy:
(1) Understanding- Understanding begins with
an awareness of the hurt or difficulty another person may be facing. And even though you may not have experienced the same pain in your life, you can see their difficulties and recognize the hurt they are going through.
Most of the challenges that others are facing cannot be seen. So it takes reaching out, asking, and listening to grow the awareness that leads to understanding how hard those challenges are.
(2) Respecting- Respecting the sensitivity and caring that should flow from understanding how much a person is hurting. It is truly feeling sorry for their pain.
(3) Responding- Responding puts these feelings into actions. It is an active reaching out to help the other person better deal with their pain. And though you man not be able to alleviate their hurt, you are able to stand beside them, hold their hand, and give them strength to keep walking through the challenge.
Another definition of empathy is simply to see, care and act on another's hurt. If you see a classmate fall and scrape their knee, you first see that they've fallen and acknowledge their hurt, then you care by being concerned about that hurt, and lastly you act as you go to help stop the bleeding and help them to their feet.
Encouraging empathy means helping students to be aware, to l
isten and learn more about the hard things their classmates may be going through. And it starts with an understanding that most hurts are unseen. A youth counselor told us she encourages students to think of everyone in this way- "We are all bruised- from different hurts and difficulties in life- and we all need treated gently so we don't get bruised any deeper."
We can all stand to be more aware- and treat others more gently.
Empathy takes this greater sensitivity and puts it into action, as we respond to the hurt we see others facing. It changes our words and our actions as we help build others up and encourage them to face their challenges with support and strength.
Bullying breaks others down- empathy picks up those who have fallen down and helps them stand taller.And in the end, both the empathy receiver AND the empathy giver end up feeling better!
For parents: Look up "EMPATHY" and "COMPASSION" in the dictionary and talk about their meanings. Think about some hard things your family has experienced. Now think about some hard things you know others at school or in your neighborhood have experienced, and talk about ways to show empathy to that person.
For schools: Make a Frayer Model or Thinking Map with the word "EMPATHY". For a classroom activity to encourage empathy, have students write 2-3 hard things they have been through on a sticky note. Gather all the sticky notes and hang them on a poster board. They don't need to know whose is whose, they need to know there is a lot more hurt and hard in the room than they expected. Help them think through how their words can be sensitive to the "bruises" of others.