Can You Teach Empathy?
by TeachThought Staff
The Definition Of Empathy
In the Difference Between Empathy And Sympathy, we offered that “empathy is feeling with or alongside someone, while sympathy is feeling sorry for, which Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, explores in the video below. Brown reduces the difference between empathy and sympathy as the difference between feeling with and feeling for, calling empathy a ‘sacred space’ and a ‘choice.’”
What is the definition of empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another person, often referred to as ‘putting oneself in someone else’s shoes.’
It involves the capacity to perceive and relate to the emotions and perspectives of others without losing sight of one’s identity and experiences. Empathy goes beyond sympathy or feeling sorry for someone; it encompasses a deeper connection and understanding of another person’s situation.
What Are The Different Forms Of Empathy?
Classifying types of empathy may, on the surface, seem unnecessary in the same way identifying and putting different forms of sympathy in categories.
But splintering nuanced concepts into different forms–or even as a spectrum–can make seeing and cultivating this complex emotional practice. It allows a child to understand it better as certain types may resonate more strongly or be more accessible to the student. It also makes teaching, encouraging, supporting, and explaining its causes and effects more practical for teachers.
In other words, it can begin to answer the guiding question here: can you teach empathy? Like the argument of whether or not critical thinking can be taught, it misses a huge swath of potential because of semantics. Can it be ‘taught’ by teachers? By parents?
Can experiences with friends or stories or memories ‘teach’ empathy?
Can a parent ‘teach’ different forms of friendship or affection or respect?
Whether this happens directly or indirectly, of course they can. By defining it and identifying it, modeling it, and using different forms of a feedback loop–whether by direct instruction, concept mapping, or a myriad of other ways–empathy is a familial and deeply human art. Its presence is healing and restorative, and its absence can be overwhelmingly tragic.
Why You Should Teach A Child Empathy
An important question, in short, empathy should be modeled, encouraged, and otherwise ‘taught’ to improve the quality of the lives of that child and the families and communities they are a part of.
The benefits of empathy include better relationships, improved self-awareness and collaboration skills, and more.
Four Examples Of Empathy
In ‘The Role Of Empathy In Learning,’ Terry Heick said, “The role of empathy in learning involves a dialogic interaction with the world around us. This emphasizes knowledge demands–what we need to know. It also encourages us to take collective measurements rather than those singular, forcing us into an intellectual interdependence that catalyzes other subtle but powerful tools of learning.”
Empathy can be expressed through various forms, such as emotional empathy, which involves sharing in the emotions of another person; cognitive empathy, which involves understanding and comprehending another person’s perspective and feelings; and compassionate empathy, which combines understanding with a desire to alleviate the suffering or distress of others.
Empathy plays a crucial role in fostering meaningful relationships, promoting effective communication, and cultivating a sense of compassion and understanding within individuals and communities. It enables people to connect with others on a deeper level, offer support, and demonstrate care and kindness.
Four Types Of Empathy
Imagine you see a close friend who is visibly upset and crying. You immediately feel a sense of sadness and concern for your friend. You are able to share in their emotional state and feel their pain, even if you don’t fully understand the exact cause of their distress. This emotional resonance and mirroring of their feelings is an example of emotional empathy.
Suppose a family member is going through a challenging situation that you have never personally experienced. However, you make a genuine effort to understand their perspective, putting yourself in their shoes and trying to comprehend their emotions and thoughts. By actively listening, asking questions, and seeking to understand their point of view, you demonstrate cognitive empathy. You may not share their exact emotions, but you strive to understand their experience.
If you see a news article about a natural disaster that has devastated a community. You feel a deep sense of compassion and concern for the people affected. You not only empathize with their suffering but also feel motivated to take action. You may donate to relief efforts, volunteer your time, or spread awareness about the issue. This combination of understanding, feeling, and taking action characterizes compassionate empathy.
Imagine a friend confides in you about a personal struggle they are facing. Instead of dismissing their feelings or offering quick solutions, you actively listen, validate their emotions, and provide a supportive presence. You offer words of encouragement, show understanding, and assure them that they are not alone. By offering this empathetic support, you provide a safe space for your friend to express themselves and feel understood.