by Eric Walters
As I typed that two-word title, I paused, and then added a question mark. What was I possibly going to say in a few hundred words that would make that goal possible? Yet, the morning has just begun, the sun is still rising, and I am hopeful. So, let me try.
Empathy, simply put, involves the ability to understand the feelings of others. Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and activist, famously said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” I believe her. I believe stories are an integral part of who we are. We tell stories to entertain, educate, impact emotionally, and communicate. We have an inherent need to tell, and hear, stories.
In my picture books My Name Is Blessing, Hope Springs, and Today Is the Day, I tell stories inspired by the work I do in Kenya. They are about difficult truths and hopeful endings. These narratives are far removed from the day-to-day world
of almost all of those who read the stories. I want them to see this other world,
to understand other situations and other lives, and to spend a few moments
inside another life. I often hear from teachers how these stories have emotionally
affected their students — and them. Teachers will tell me that they were moved
to tears. I often ask them what they are going to do with those tears. To quote
from a famous song by Northern Lights in 1985 — “Tears Are Not Enough.”
Empathy + Action = Kindness
As teachers, writers, and parents, we want to help our children understand the feelings and situations of others — especially those going through tragedy, trauma, and difficult life circumstances — but that’s only the first step. If we take them only that far, we’re not taking them far enough. We need to model for them acts of kindness, and further, allow them the opportunity to be kind. Once you read the book, what will you do about it? How do words and pictures become feelings and how do these feelings become actions?
I maintain that the most selfish thing you can do is help somebody — because it feels so good inside. And, when you do it once you’re going to want to do it again, and again, and again. Allow students the opportunity to experience empa-thy and to act in kindness. Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
You can be that teacher.
*taken from Teaching Tough Topics by Larry Swartz.