“Opinion is really the lowest form of knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the ‘self’ kind of understanding.” -Bill Bullard.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as, “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing feelings, thoughts and experiences of another of either the past or present, without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” Simply put, it is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
As opposed to ‘sympathy’, which limits itself to feeling sorry or pity for another, empathy digs deeper and has the ability to forge meaningful relationships between individuals.
Since empathy is a critical life skill to have both for interpersonal and intrapersonal growth, it becomes imperative to nurture it in early childhood. It is considered just the right time to help children develop the faculty to ‘step into another’s shoes.’
Young children have an innate sense of empathy, which needs to be recognized, appreciated and fostered. It reminds me of an incident quoted by Dr. Helen Riess, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. On a plane ride, while most passengers were trying to deal with the shrieking cries of a very disturbed baby, a 3-year-old toddler went right up to the wailing infant and offered his own pacifier! Clearly, the toddler felt and experienced the agony of the baby and wanted to do something to soothe it. That, is empathy and all human beings are born with it.
Empathy in Education:
The world is ever changing bringing people closer to each other. Interactions are not just transactional. People are seeking to have deep and purposeful relationships with others personally and professionally. Thus, now more than ever, empathy has emerged as the single most essential competency one can possess. And what better way to facilitate this than in the form of education.
Education is an integral part of growing up. Since education is not just about academic learning, traits like kindness, empathy, caring for others etc. are crucial for well-rounded development.
The last few years have seen significant changes in the education domain. Smaller classrooms, trained and aware teachers, supportive school managements and well-exposed students have made way for empathy to make an impactful change in the lives of both, the students and teachers.
Sports and Empathy:
As much as sports is about winning, we cannot discount the fact that it equips us with skills to navigate through life. Sport teaches us to persevere, to accept wins and losses equally, patience, hard work and many such traits. But most of all, it has the ability to make us empathetic people. A classic example is this year’s Olympic Games where 2 high jumpers shared the gold medal is pure gold! Both the opponents were able to feel the pain, hard work and hardships of the other. Hence, it is absolutely paramount to incorporate sport on a higher level in our education system.
Empathy and the Teacher:
The word ‘teaching’ is now replaced with terms like ‘facilitation’, ‘mentoring’, ‘coaching’, ‘edifying’ etc. These words describe a process where both, the mentor and the mentee are in a symbiotic teaching and learning relationship. There is scope for both to teach and learn from each other. Karl Meninger, the American psychiatrist says, “What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.” As much as a teacher is expected to “complete the portions”, it’s equally important for him/her to model behaviour, skills and values which they wish to imbibe in their students.
Below are a few ways in which a teacher can help facilitate empathy in young minds. These may help in building a life-long and meaningful teacher-student relationship, which transcends beyond the classroom:
Be a model: Children see and pick up cues from adults, so give them something great to imitate. Try exhibiting empathy is class, with students, colleagues, parents, housekeeping staff etc.
Inclusive Lessons: The classroom is a mixed bag, with learners possessing different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. An empathetic teacher would strive to cater to all their requirements. Their sensitivity would enable them to set-up Multiple Intelligence corners to involve kids having varied learning preferences. A slow learner or gifted child would not feel left out if the teacher is able to pick up on their cues and help them accordingly.
Self-love and Self-empathy: One cannot give what one does not have. The teacher cannot disseminate the power of being an empathetic person if he/she is unable to empathize with oneself. A bad day, failures, vulnerabilities are all part of being human. It is absolutely ok for teachers to put their hand up and say, “I’m not ok, I am not at my best today, but I still love myself and am compassionate towards myself.” This teaches young children that it is it alright to feel bad, be vulnerable, and yet strive to achieve excellence despite all hurdles.
Quiet Time: In between the hustle of a busy day, a 10-to-15-minute quiet time can help children regroup and rejuvenate. Students become aware of their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. It is important to assure them that all feelings and emotions are welcome. Only then will they be able to appreciate and accept themselves and others.
Humility and Openness: Teachers need to be open, humble, and willing to listen and learn from students. Students who feel heard, validated and accepted for who they are, grow up to be confident, self-assured, and empathetic people.
As they say, teaching is a work of heart! A good teacher will help children understand that no matter what, being aware and empathetic towards oneself and others is the only way forward. A good leader not only leads with rules and regulations, but also with kindness. Perhaps, that is why people say, ‘Catch them young.’ However, what I like to believe is, “It is never too early to help children learn about empathy, and if you think about it, it is never too late either!”
Growing up, my mom would always tell me that I shouldn’t waste food, that there were so many other people with an astronomical lust for just one proper, fulfilling meal. I’d smirk and brush off her comments as though they meant nothing. Today, I understand the egregious fault of my ways.
As I write this, Yemen is on the brink of famine. In the country, the current level of hunger is unprecedented as it continues to prove a heavy hardship, despite receiving ongoing humanitarian assistance. Over one-quarter of the 30 million population has been classified as malnourished. Over 3 million women and children are prominently malnutritioned and food insecure. Yemen is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death.
Can you imagine waking up everyday hoping you would get at least a single piece of bread to sustain you? Living in a state of constant distress where you are so horrifically in need – need, not want of food that it is the sole influence that controls your existence?
The global pandemic – Coronavirus – has affected us all. Schools and offices have shifted online, theatres, malls and restaurants have been shut down, social distancing has been implemented and we just simply don’t leave our homes without wearing a mask. This is our new normal.
But while we face minor disruptions, Yemen is undergoing a worsened contour of what was already the hub of the largest humanitarian crisis. With 3.6 million internally displaced people, the nation’s medical facilities have been left in tatters, on top of which a cholera outbreak has sickened some 2.3 million Yemenis, killing nearly 4000.
When Abdulla Bin Ghooth saw the computed tomography scan of the lungs of a colleague’s brother, he knew the outlook was grim. Despite complaints of a fever and shortness of breath; hospital staff, afraid of the novel coronavirus, sent him home with an oxygen cylinder. He pleaded for aid, but to no avail. The man was never tested and died at home 3 days later.
“Perhaps no country is more vulnerable to COVID-19’s depredations than Yemen. Even before the virus’ arrival, the country was grappling with the largest humanitarian crisis in the world as a result of a civil war now grinding into its sixth year” says Jens Laerke, a spokesperson at the UN. This virus could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
To further make this situation worse, the UN is running out of cash donations from member countries as they battle COVID-19 on their own turf. WFP is facing a significant funding shortfall, they urgently need US$ 878 million to ensure uninterrupted food assistance for the next six months (June 2020 to December 2020).
“A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including war, inflation, crop failure, population imbalance, or government policies,” the boy read out to his class. “Good, we’ll continue with draughts next class,” the teacher announced. The entire room, oblivious of it’s true sentiment, dispersed for lunch hurriedly as the bell rang. Complaining about memorising this for his exam, the boy laughed with his friends as they sat collectively around the lunch table, trading their food.
Simultaneously, one of 360,000 kids that didn’t receive the treatment she needed to battle acute malnutrition was gone. Just as unfairly as she was introduced to the world, her only memories of which were- the globe being an ocean with a constant circumlocuting tide of overwhelming hunger, fear and inequality. Her family mourned, but continued to starve themselves. Their indignance dissipated to desperation.
However, the state in Yemen has not yet been declared a famine, but make no mistake, the living standards of the citizens are subjected to exactly that of an alarming crisis. “If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late as people will already be dying”, a statement by humanitarian aid read.
16 million people are in need of basic healthcare and/or do not have access to safe drinking water. Two in three Yemenis, regularly don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Every three in four Yemenis, need help. Half of which are children. “Yemen is one of the worst places to be a child” the UN said.
Imagine laying eyes on your child, caressing the bones that so significantly stand out on her chest, having to make sure that you don’t accidentally so much as touch the tube through which your daughter is being fed, because god forbid that her source of sustenance was somehow disrupted; while you, yourself suffer some sort of malnourishment, as the rest of your family does. Despite not having enough energy to walk, hopelessly yearning for a job just so you could provide for your baby girl who has now overcome malnourishment, only to contract tuberculosis. Imagine having to sell all earthly possessions for a spoonful of rice. You can’t envision that? Well, that’s exactly what Rahmah, 6-year old Alaa’s mother goes through everyday.
It is easy to sit at our home and hurt over matters such as these. It is easy to pray for them, considering the privilege we have been bestowed. All the while, we continue to cavil over trifling inconveniences. It is not a social trend to post about their truly precarious lifestyle. It is unnerving to turn oblivious to such a catastrophe as you notice other people have stopped talking about it. It is not ‘noble’ or ‘considerate’ to bring this up in a conversation, but to take no action.
We are blessed, it is time we recognise that and it is definitely time that we invest our synergy into mitigating our blessings so that we can make others capable of persisting, exploring and breaking the cycle of making unjust memories of iniquity. They should have the ability to start a new chapter. Their capacity to anticipate and write their own and ‘he/she lived happily ever after’, should be just as much a latitude, as ours is.
Actions speak louder than words. Make your actions count !
One of the first “good” news we received during the early phases of lock down back in April, was the visibility of the entire Dhauladhar range from rooftops in Jalandhar due to the lowering of air pollution as the country was brought to an almost stand-still. A lot of us rejoiced at this, but did we truly need a pandemic to teach us how to take care of our one true home?
The restrictions on travel globally with the ban of international flights and lock down have impacted the environment positively, bringing down the daily global CO2 emissions down by almost 17% in April itself and a projected 3-13% by the end of the year if restrictions remain worldwide. Though the former information might still blow our minds, it was rather temporary. In fact, according to Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, England, carbon output could surge past pre-pandemic levels as soon as we ‘get back to normal’, putting the risk level higher.
The popular belief is that the COVID-19 virus spread from bats in the wet markets of Wuhan, but there were speculations about this virus being artificially made to be used as a bioweapon. Dr. Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College in London was investigating the goat plague in Mongolia in 2017 and said that the goat plague if tweaked by just two amino acids, would be infectious to humans. The same can be possible with the COVID-19 virus transferring over from bats to humans. However, this isn’t even the deadliest of all, since there is an infinite number of viruses and bacteria that affect many animals, and with a small change can be deadly to humans. It’s close to impossible to create vaccines to such potential diseases without having studied their genome.
The crossing over of zoonotic diseases into humans is not a rare incident, since wildlife trade and transportation of ‘exotic’ animals into zoos around the world increases the chances of virus/bacteria mutation in those animals. Since we are the ones transporting animals for whatever reason, we are essentially leading ourselves toward extinction, one small step at a time. Not only are we threatening our future generations with these potentially fatal diseases, but we are also taking away the existing population of wildlife species by misusing the natural habitats of animals to satisfy our greed.
Most of us have heard of the term ‘carbon footprint’– the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. Water footprint is a similar term, but in terms of water. It is the measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted. This doesn’t just mean the amount of water we consume in our daily life for cooking, drinking, washing, etc. It includes the amount of water that goes into our food, clothing, appliances, even the banknotes we use to buy all of these!
One of the main sources of energy for humans is food. Around 15% of the world’s population is vegetarian and the other 85% consume at least one type of meat. This isn’t to say that going vegetarian or vegan is the best option — if the animals of prey are left without any predators, they’ll turn out just like us humans. Their populations could skyrocket just like that of the human race, or at least partially since their natural habitat is being destroyed by us and that is an essential factor in population growth of a species.
I did not know about this until recently, but I had heard that the amount of water that goes into the production of one kilogram of beef is approximately 15000 liters of water (1800 gallons per pound) and thought it was an over-exaggeration. It isn’t, and the rate at which we are using up freshwater, we might run out of it way before 2050, as predicted by the UN Population Fund in 2001.
To quote Lester R. Brown, a famous environmentalist, “We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have borrowed it from our children.” We didn’t need a pandemic to reflect on our past behaviors, but it has come to that. I hope that we as a species learn to evolve from this experience and implement (small) positive changes in ourselves so that our future generations get a chance to call our planet earth as their ‘home’.
“And if anyone ever stops you, you put your hands up. Drop everything you’re holding and make sure the officer can see your empty hands, crystal clear,” her father announced, in the most authoritative and serious tone he could muster. “I understand daddy,” the 4-year-old replied.
Imagine living in constant fear. Not only for your own life but for your kids’, for your parents, for your friends. It sounds excessive when you read about it, but that exact sentiment is conventional among those that are dark-skinned and live in the United States of America.
George Floyd’s murder did not cause the uproar that echoes through streets around the world today. It only ignited the flame. There was already a fire of anger and resentment burning through the halls of injustice. The Minneapolis police officer’s horrendous act fueled the flame.
A packet of skittles candy. A toy gun. Selling CDs. Reaching for your driver’s license when asked to do so. Jogging. Sleeping in your own house. Wearing a ski mask for having anemia. This got them killed. Numerous black men, women, and kids have lost their lives because their everyday routine struck venal men in blue as suspicious, dangerous.
Can you imagine living in a world where when confronted by the authority for mesial reasons, it wouldn’t matter if you were innocent or guilty? It wouldn’t matter if you were repentant or impenitent. It wouldn’t matter if you were resisting apprehension or if you were complying with all the official’s instructions. It wouldn’t matter if you were veritable or arbitrary. It wouldn’t even matter if you outranked the officer in a formal setting. You wouldn’t have rights or even so much as a voice in what happens to you. Why? Because the amount of melanin content in your skin would have already decided for you.
“Take it to the streets, defund the police. No justice, No Peace.” This chant resonated through the streets of Minneapolis as enraged protesters peacefully marched in dissent of the corrupt justice system.
The Black lives matter movement birthed a turmoil internationally. Belgium, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico, Brazil, Guadeloupe, Australia, Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Bermuda and a plethora of citizens, globally, paid their respects and protested the abhorrent murder of countless black citizens.
“Daddy changed the world,” Floyd’s 6-year-old proudly said while attending a local protest. She shouldn’t have to be put through that though. No child should have to be exposed to the vitriolic oppression the legal system practices callously. In contrast, no parent should have to be put through losing their child at such a tender age. No mother should have to live knowing that the last word her son/daughter breathed was “mamma please help me,” but she couldn’t protect her precious baby.
Families go to grieve their lost, loved one after they’ve yawped over the deceased’s blood sprawled across the coarse concrete, and then, they wait and wait and wait for the police and the coroner and the county to get their accounts straight and their act together. Simultaneously, their privilege sits crooked as a cheap wig would, but that’s okay because they have boundless time to stitch it, on the trot, constantly correct it, until finally, it is immovably flawless.
All that time they spent, simply preparing, holding their whiteness and authority up as mirrors for each other, tuning out the vengeful wails of a mourning community – or adulterating them, rather; and that was their truth. But their truth, need not be our truth.
How the media managed to depict peaceful protests in the state of mens rea, still remains staggering to me. A majority of the audience still remains oblivious to the fact that policemen suspended their uniform for the day to go undercover in masses of protesters to initiate the violence, just so the congregations could be dispersed via the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and brutal force.
Citizens have lost their eyes, they have swollen lips, severely bruised body parts; and for what? For a cause with a goal whose ideology shouldn’t even be up for debate. “All animals are equal but some are more equal,” George Orwell’s Animal farm revealed. This is a replica of what we face today, fighting the same battle that has been being fought for over decades.
Labeled “thugs” by their very own president for practicing their own freedom of speech while the country proudly broadcasted as the whites protested the quarantine with rifles in their hands. That’s the difference. Threatening harm is all right if you’re in a state of distress, you are a respected member of the community after all, aren’t you? Yes; but only if you are white.
“ACAB” was graffitied across countless walls, to -in the most peaceful way speak up about how black communities were unfairly treated and diligently discriminated against. Although that stands true for a majority of corrupt-moraled police officers, it discredits those who were brave enough to stand up for the movement, on the protesters’ side.
Paul Pazen. Nick Travisano. Joseph Wysocki. Jerri Williams. These are names of just a few honest, ethically humane officers that preached the disputed concept of black lives matter. “The good cops are sick to their stomachs,” the New Jersey Chief of police said.
“All lives matter” some angry white supremacists riposted. That is not the purpose of the BLM movement, however- to undermine other races that are. The fundamentalism of humanity dictates that everyone is created equal, your actions rank you otherwise; but how are these gentlemen and women to prove themselves if they are killed before being given the chance to?
The 6-day program at the ‘US Space and Research Center, Huntsville, Alabama’ taught me lessons that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The program was designed to help students with the passion of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) to understand the far reaches of the technology and science in the dazzling universe we live. Their moto was to teach the students of the upcoming generation about important qualities such as leadership, team building, cooperation, agility, perseverance, and physical and mental strength. The participants arrived from all over the globe from over 100 countries. It was an amazing platform to understand people and cultures of many different places and share mine with them.
The program begun with amusing simulators and experiencing the wonders of the gravity and its force. The former Astronauts of few major missions by NASA expounded their experiences and the work that goes behind each mission. We were unfolded to some missions like the Voyager, Pioneer program, Cassini Huygens, Curiosity and Apollo 50. It was a pleasure to be addressed by and to personally meet Robert Lee “hoot” Gibson, also called ‘The Man Who Has Flown Everything’, a former NASA astronaut, a naval officer, an aviator, an aeronautical engineer, a test pilot and a Reno air race pilot.
Fortunately, I was able to witness one of the major training that is performed by pilots and astronauts to prepare and tumble into earth’s atmosphere, called ‘The Astronaut Multi Axis Training’, the 3-axis gimbal for the cardiovascular and equilibrioception training.
We were made to do physical challenges like to climb a 38 feet pole and stand on the disc that could move, rock climbing, wall climbing, field activities and so much more. As it remains a very important factor to be physically as well as mentally prepared for the astronauts and pilots to fly, to learn about their preparedness was enchanting.
Besides these activities, the participants had Incident command challenges (to help the public in case of crisis), ISS missions (To conduct experiments in a space station environment. I received a chance to be the station commander in my mission), several team-building activities, experiencing moonwalk with 1/6th of earths gravity, to fly plane simulators of the F 15 eagle, Fairchild Republic A10, F/A 18 Hornet, Falcon 7X and the Harrier jump jet. We worked in teams and constructed a rocket from coding the projectile in a Raspberry Pie to assembling and flying it successfully. The crew trainers would also conduct fun activities like Trivia night, Movie night, Karaoke night and DJ night.
I was looking forward to this program for a long time and I would like to thank Honeywell and Treamis World School for this opportunity and their constant support. Although this was just a 6-day program, the memories that I gathered and the friends I made will always be close to my heart forever.
One day I met a parent in the school who asked me “how do you manage discipline and children’s behavior in the class?” Her question made me think – as an individual am I disciplining children or even my own little daughter who is less than 2 years…… Often I get upset with her “behavior”. As I thought about my little one, I felt like I am sinking in the sea of gallons of thoughts and emotions. But here are some points that kept floating to the surface my mind. They are sort of in a logical order, but also all inter-related. The origin may be the kind of parenting I received, the schools I attended, reading and research and of course, experience.
I am not in love with the terms “management” and “behavior”. In this context; both have connotations that make me uncomfortable. (The usage of vocab – right words, right context and right time- this seems like another post, for another day) I feel that these words are too heavy for the little ones who are still in the process of exploring themselves and their surroundings. And probably that’s THE reason they end up doing something that’s annoying for so called “ADULTS”.
What is a “problem behavior.?” A behavior is ONLY a problem if it interferes with a child’s safety and learning or the safety and learning of others. Period! A behavior that is annoying to me cannot automatically become a problem. Hey… just think on that for a minute. How often have you reprimanded or disciplined a child for doing something that was annoying you? I’m embarrassed to say how often I have done just that even with my little one (let’s be clear – I am far from perfect in all this….). However, with this definition, a whole bunch of things will STOP being problems — wiggling, slouching in a chair; looking at the ceiling during a story, sitting on their knees instead of their bottoms; — these all cannot be problems unless and until it becomes obvious that these things are dangerous or detrimental to learning.
Manage children as individuals, not as a group. Some of my observations as a class teachers – Jayant concentrates better sitting on a chair than on the floor; so why not allow a chair for him at story time. Others have no problem on the floor. Maya struggles to keep her hands to herself. She can choose a fidget toy during whole group instruction. When you really get to know your students, you know that EVERY child has “special needs.” When the children understand what “fair” means, you can meet those needs without worrying about accusations of favoritism. (Although, sometimes, you have to teach parents and colleagues what “fair” means, too.)
Just as students ask for help with their school work, they need to know it is okay to ask for help with their behavior too. If the child feels that he will do better in line by walking with me, he can. If another one can’t stop chatting with neighbor, I will help her find a place to work alone. Holding my hand, sitting alone, are NOT punishments: I don’t present them as punishments, and I work hard to change the kids’ perception of punishment. These are choices and tools that help children be their best selves.
Look for patterns. If I am constantly correcting the same behavior from the same child at the same time in the same spot : is there a way to break the pattern? If there is pushing in the lineup to wash hands EVERY DAY, how can I change the lineup routine? Can I give them more space? Send some to the bathroom? Make the line go faster? Give them something to do while they wait? Sometimes, changing the pattern means changing what I think I know about something.
Don’t have “systems.”, have relationships. As I re-read these now, it is that simple. There cannot be a single system or routine that can be universally applied to every child at all times in all situations. What works for one does not work for another and makes things even worse for a third.
I know few readers may think that it is so simple to put all this on paper but implementing this will be so very difficult. I don’t have an answer for those people. For me, these truths simply work. I don’t know if they will work for you, too. I would, however, challenge you to try just one of them. Re-define problematic behavior. Find and change a pattern. Focus on your relationship with a challenging child. And then, please, come back here and let me know how it went.