Putting Empathy Into Action

We talk a lot about being empathetic and trying to understand things from someone else’s perspective. But, that can sometimes be a challenging prospect. To make it a little easier, I thought I’d share a few things that are geared towards adults helping children to gain empathy.

Books. That seems easy enough, right? But, do we as adults really take the time to read informative books that will expand our knowledge base? Have you tried to read about other people’s culture or history? It seems like many different months are dedicated to helping raise awareness about an identified religion or culture. Do you take advantage of resources available in your communities that are literally geared towards this outcome? Listen to an audiobook if the time to sit down and read is not a luxury you can afford. Regardless of how you do it, expose yourself to those written words.

Meet new people. Put yourself in different situations personally and professionally to meet varieties of people. Some who may have very different backgrounds than yours. Ask questions of those new people you meet (respectfully, of course), but then really listen to the answers you are given. Reflect upon their unique experiences and try to understand how those experiences helped shape the person. 

Value differences. This can be especially difficult for us as adults. Children are much more open to differences, so let’s follow their lead on this one! Kids don’t feel threatened by differences like so many of us adults. As adults we often don’t know for sure how to communicate with someone who is different than us. It is easy to feel threatened by differing opinions if we believe that those differing opinions somehow invalidate our own. It’s just not the case. Everyone has the right to their own opinions and we have a responsibility to respect the opinions of others.

Listen! Don’t we often ask children to listen as we dispense our little nuggets of wisdom to them? But, what if we took that to heart as well. What if we just took the time to sit down to listen to another person’s perspective without feeling the need to ‘splain it away? Listening to someone else explain how/why they perceive a situation as they do does not mean we are letting go of our own firmly held beliefs, but it just might open us up a little to have empathy for others. It might even help you to understand more deeply why it is that you feel the way you do.

Empathy, understanding, perspective…we could all use a little more.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty Supervisor

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