Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What is Empathy?

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

When I taught fourth grade I used to make vocabulary a huge part of our year. I always used GRE words and I told each child that they could learn the same words that college students were learning. They loved that I raised the bar really high for them, but most of all they liked and appreciated that I believed in them! It was really great to see college level vocabulary in their writing assignments and in their conversations. However, the first word they were given on day one of the school year was empathy. I find this word to be incredibly important. More than this, I find its meaning powerful and a necessity in life. Sadly, there are many who do not know this word and even worse, they don't always feel it!

What is empathy? The dictionary definition is:
Empathy - the action of understanding, being sensitive to, being aware of, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

How many times have you experienced someone who judges you or speaks without even knowing what you may be going through? I have learned one valuable lesson in this life, and that is under no circumstances should I judge another person. I have not walked in their shoes and I have not felt what their heart has been through.
I have a beautiful couple in their eighties living next door to me. They have lived in this home for over sixty years. I have gotten to know them recently and I adore them. Their yard has really become overgrown and they have two of their old cars from long ago sitting in the driveway collecting leaves and outdoor debris as time passes. I don't notice these things or really care about it. I just enjoy their company immensely and talking to them about their fond memories. However, there is a neighborhood clique that has been calling this couple continually telling them to get their lawn done and to move the cars. Personally, I don't see the neighbors paying this couples taxes, but besides that, I can't believe the utter lack of empathy. The poor older gentleman has had two strokes within the past 12 months and has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. The wife explained this to the neighbor, and instead of maybe baking something for this couple, they continue to hound them about their yard. This to me is a perfect example of having absolutely no empathy. We all get old and not as agile or capable if we are blessed to live that long. Where is the empathy? I can't even fathom what is going on through someones mind as they conscientiously badger an elderly couple!

How often have you encountered a lack of empathy?

27 comments:

  1. It happens every day, and it is one of the things I hate most about modern society. People are so quick to judge, and then, even when they do find out what a person might be going through, they just don't care.

    When I was still writing my column last year (I quit when our seven month old was born), I wrote about people just not being nice anymore. It's an epidemic, and I am truly a firm believer in "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

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  2. It's so sad and so true! Especially about our elderly. I try to always look beyond their "condition" and remember that they once were young, vibrant, full of hopes and dreams. They once were in the same shoes our generation is now...living life to the full. And they have lived life the most! Actually, this is what inspired me most to write a novel. Too quickly we will be in their shoes, and I pray that our children's generation will be equipped with empathy. Thanks for the post!

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  3. Unfortunately it is so commonplace for people to lack empathy these days. Its such a shame. People dont know how to react without judgement. Can you imagine what an amazing society we would be apart of if people practiced empathy?

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  4. Do you guys live in a Home Owners Association? If not, then those neighbors hounding your poor older couple have no right to even be bringing up the subject! I know how annoying that can be though.. I live in a HOA and the rules here are strict, sometimes with really stupid rules. Maybe you can recruit some of the other neighbors to come help clean the yard and stuff if they continue being rude, just to get them off their back. Better yet, the ones complaining should help! I wish I could come and help you!

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  5. oh my! this makes me sad..if someone does that to my own grandparents i wouldn't know what i would and could do, i'll feel really enraged..i grew up with my grandparents and now that i have my own family i took them with me (they are staying in our house in the Philippines)..our neighbors even thought they were my own parents =) so far, i have not known anyone personally who is like this to the elderly..

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  6. I think it is very important to teach these lessons- and it is a good reminder for me also to feel empathy for the children and others as we never know what they may be experiencing when they are outside of the classroom. Many times, these are the lessons that are overlooked at home and at school and children never get exposed to these feelings. People just seemed to get wrapped up in what is only important to them and do not care how it affects others. I used to work in the corporate world and lack of empathy ran rampid there - no one cared how they were affecting anyone else's work or life as long as they got what they wanted. It made my stomach turn daily.

    Kyle
    http://www.montessoriforlearning.blogspot.com

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  7. Hi!!! Thanks so much for your KIND comment on my blog -- and I've had such fun looking around yours (while I should be getting ready for the morning, ha!). Your daughter is such a cutie -- her smile is truly contagious : ) Great post too, and great blog in general, new follower here! Have a super day, Jeremi

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  8. Hi Mama Hen, great post. Actually I plan on writing a children's book based on 'bigger' words. BTW: where is your music on your site?

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  9. What a great post. You're an awesome gal and a mommy. We all need to be more empathetic and not judge others. I think the community should rally to help out the elderly couple rather then badgering them. Keep us posted.

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  10. Nice post!! And I love what you did with those kids re. vocabulary. We so often 'dumb down' stuff for kids. They want to be challenged! Good for you!

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  11. Unfortunately, it happens often. I've always had a soft spot for the elderly and recently (maybe because I'm gonna be 40 next year) have started trying to envision myself in their shoes some day and I hope and pray that I will be fortunate enough to have children/grandchildren who will help take care of me. God bless you for befriending them and I am sure it means so much to them.

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  12. That is so sad about your neighbors! Our neighbors are also an elderly couple and the husband has a lot of medical issues and is being taken to the doctor regularly. My husband has been mowing their yard for them whenever he mows our yard just because we live in townhouses & it's no big deal & we figured it was an easy help for them.

    I also wanted to say that this is a great idea about the GRE words for 4th graders! I'm starting my student teaching in August in a 4th grade classroom & I'm nervous about it because I've only done the really young grades before now. Particularly Kindergarten - and that's a big difference K to 4th! I've been worried about how to challenge them without being too tough!

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  13. Great post on empathy! I don't hear it talked about much. Many people would like to be understood in this way, but sadly don't know how to give it. It's too bad when we judge another's appearance and not know what they're going through. I'm sorry for your neighbors next door and do hope others will learn to empathize with them. I encounter a lack of empathy when I share my deeper feelings/lessons learned and the "listener" gives me advice right away.

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  14. Hi! I am so sorry this is so late, but I just wanted to visit again and let you know that I have already been following you. I got your comment a few days ago, but we were traveling, so I am playing catch up :) Thank you so much for visiting my blog and following!

    Love the post on empathy! It is truly sad how this seems to be disappearing from American culture...

    Blessings,
    Stephanie
    Ten Talents...

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  15. What an important word and sentiment for children to learn. It's sad the lack of respect that is given to the elderly. We live in the land of the retirees and we see it daily.

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  16. Oh goodness, that is so sad, isn't it? The good thing is your daughter gets to see your reaction to that type of situation and learn from you. She will grow up with a kind and empathetic heart. I try to teach the same thing to my boys. Don't be so quick to judge someone; really get to know them and see what you can do to help them. Wonderful post! (as for the book....uhhhh...I'm thinking: here's my new book, now when am I going to have 2 seconds to read it?!!) LOL! I bought 3-4 photography books last year, and don't think I've finished ONE! We're heading out on vacation soon, so I hope to get some reading time done then. :-) Have a wonderful day!!

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  17. can you please email me or leave a comment with your email address on my blog so I can email you my address for the postcard? You can get to my email through my profile. Thanks!

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  18. hey wanna thank u for always commenting on my posts. ur just too sweet!
    Love to lil chick

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  19. I am so glad that someone is talking openly about this. So often our elderly are given the brush-off, and it really makes me sick. I've also seen it happen with the poor in our community. It's like people would rather pretend that they didn't exist so that they don't have to do anything about it. My husband and I try to donate what we can, and we hope to be able to instill this in Georgia as well.

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  20. This is true! some people don't care about others. Instead of hounding them about the yard. They need to help the older couple mow the lawn etc. Thank you for stopping by my blog! You are a great writer. Have a wonderful day :0)

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  21. OMG, what is the matter with that neighbor? that is absolutely rude! How can they bug old people like that? Instead of bugging them, why not help them clean the yard.!

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  22. I finally got my button fixed! I figured out how to add your button to my site too (I hope that is okay!) I have learned so much in the last 2 weeks!

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  23. Great post! Added you to the blogs I follow... can't wait to read more!

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  24. I love that you taught Fourth graders GRE words. My daughter in entering fourth grade and I would love for her to have a teacher like you. You are all very far and few in between.

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  25. Empathy... something that is not seen nearly enough...

    Sympathy is thinking you know what someone feels, Empathy is feeling what they feel... yes, not enough empathy in the world.

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  26. We just had a new baby and our yard was a mess. We were embarrassed but taking care of our child was foremost in our thoughts. We even apologized for the look while talking over the fence one day. Our neighbor said she remembered those days, she has two grown children, and said don't even worry about it. Glad that some people can still show empathy and kindness.
    Glad you stopped by my blog. I'm following you back!

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  27. When my daughter was 14-15, she dressed gothic even though she really was "gothic" & I would see how people (even at church) would stare & judge her & they had no idea what all she had been through. I really wanted to get in their face & tell them off, but I didn't.

    THanks for visiting my blog. Visiting from Blog Flow.

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