Empathy plays on my mind ever so often throughout the day. What is it that allows others to be empathetic and others can’t or won’t? What is the best way to help develop empathy within our students? Does it come down to life experiences, fears, struggles, and successes. I often wonder about this.
So, I decided to revisit A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz which I do just to recharge my elementary soul. This book always provide food for thought; think of it as a snacking read. I step back to digest the material and again wonder why empathy is lacking in today’s world and children.
Don’t get me wrong it does exist in some, but now with the focus in our schools, I have to wonder why some have it and some don’t. For instance, I am highly empathetic but my sisters aren’t. Why? We were raised by the same parents, same family dynamic and values, but how is it we are so different.
In the beginning chapters, Mraz and Hertz discuss their Constellation of Stances—“There are habits or stances that we can build in ourselves that will make us more successful and happier.” I love this concept. The stances are persistence, empathy, flexibility, resilience, and optimism. They focus on the stances individually in a style that makes me plan various teaching opportunities with my students.
Now, as I again ponder empathy, the constellation of stances comes into play. I am beginning to think that empathy can not be taught or learned without the other stances. These stances are interwoven with each other, they feed off of one another.
To have an understanding of what someone is going through you need to be able to relate to the persistence, the resilience that they may have experienced with their current struggle. Flexibility plays a role as well with empathy because in order to adapt to a situation you must step back, assess, and consider all of the options at play. You need an understanding of all the elements and empathy is part of this. In order to be empathetic, you have an understanding of what the person is going through; you consider the elements, the feelings, the emotions and the circumstances.
Optimism also plays another role in developing empathy. In order to be optimistic you are flexible. You are able to adapt, because of your persistence and grit. Therefore, you are able to come to assess the situation and come up with an alternative view in order to achieve the goal. With these adaptations you have an understanding which strengthens you ability to empathize with others. You have walked the walk, so you can relate to a person’s struggle and in order to continue you need to be optimistic.
So, I am beginning to think you can not isolate empathy in order to teach it. Empathy is too closely linked to the other stances. Empathy is linked to our own life experiences and how we overcome situations.
My sisters and I were raised under the same values, but they experienced the death of our sister at a different age and perspective than I did. Their experience fashioned their constellation of life’s stances and this is why I believe we differ. That experience led them to deal with life under different stances than I. I am more persistent, flexible, resilient, optimistic, and empathetic than them because of our experience and how we handled life’s sinkers. Empathy can not be isolated. I believe that it needs to be taught with other values and under the constellation of stances.
Thank you Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz for leading me to keep pondering and revisiting your work!