As discussed in this previous blog post, our social nature, our ability to project ourselves into someone else’s position, is what makes us human, what makes us capable of “civilization”, of living in an interdependent group. It is, in fact, what gives our lives meaning.
When near death, most people reminisce about the experiences of deep connections they had with others – family, friends, and colleagues. It is the empathetic moments in one’s life that are the most powerful memories and the experiences that comfort and give a sense of connection, participation, and meaning to one’s sojourn. (p. 157 The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin)
With this knowledge that empathy is what gives our lives purpose, then how do we foster empathy in ourselves and others?
As a specific case study, the Roots of Empathy program has been reducing aggression and increasing empathy in schoolchildren all over the globe by introducing them to a neighbourhood infant and parent who visit the classroom every three weeks over the school year. An instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings, which in turn helps children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.
They are more competent in understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others (empathy) and are therefore less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties. (Roots of Empathy, “About Our Program”)
Encouraging children to see their own emotions in others sets them up to be pillars of a more nurturing community as adults.
I am searching for programs that incorporate these same methods and cater to adults. Perhaps if adults engaged in active empathy-building we would all have less aggressively partisan Facebook feeds…
We cannot continue to treat people as cogs in a machine or empty robots – it stagnates us as a society. Instead, if we address the ache in that person’s heart, see the delicate relationships surrounding them, feel the weight of a lifetime of decisions that have led them to that moment, we may find ourselves capable to making forward progress (politically and socially) for the communal good rather than continuing to spin our wheels.
Turning relationships into efficient means to advance productive ends destroys the empathic spirit. ( p.166 The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin)
The 13/13/13 Sketchbook Project is not intended as a political statement, environmental, social, pacifist, or otherwise.
My simple question is, “How can art encourage us to be more engaged and nurturing within our communities?” And this research into empathy’s role in the core of our existence is a great start.