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The Need to Raise An Empathetic Child

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I watch the news media in the United States from time to time and am almost always filled with negative emotions afterwards. The news is filled with reports of violence, greed, heartache and despair. It is no wonder people, like myself, don’t like to watch the news much anymore. Life on its own is hard enough without seeing all of the problems in the world that I can’t do anything about. Another accidental shooting death of a child in its own home. Another family thrown into uncertain times after layoffs. Another member of a government organization caught breaking this law or that one and getting away with it.

A caring person cannot simply watch those affected by the earthquake in Nepal, wars in the middle east or riots in cities across our country and not want to help. If I ever stop experiencing empathy when I see these news stories I feel as if I’ll no longer be human. I give what I can to charities doing what I cannot physically do myself. I write my congress members and hope for the best. But I don’t feel as if it is enough.

The world is a rough place. People who should be able to get along often don’t get along at all. Political discourse in the United States is in a terrible place where seemingly every discussion boils down to name calling and facts being ignored. Especially if that discussion happens online. Bosses often look out for what is best for themselves and take advantage of their subordinates. Gun owners oppose any talk of reasonable regulations based off of the empty argument of “freedom.” These things and countless more cause unnecessary pain and suffering to others.

Why Are Things This Way

There are all sorts of theories about why the world is the way it is today. Millions in the United States work full-time and are earning poverty wages. Global income inequality is rampant. According to Oxfam International the world’s richest 1% will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016. The simple truth is that it all boils down to a lack of empathy on the side of those who have the power to do anything substantial in the global market place. Why does that matter? Will anyone in those sorts of positions ever see this post or gain anything from it? Probably not. However, the little things every day folks like me can do will eventually begin a butterfly effect that cannot be stopped by those who do not care about their fellow global citizens.

People will always be subject to some sort of tribalism. The “us” versus “them” mentality is all over our culture. Sports, politics, business and religious institutions all play into this mentality in a heavy way. One sales person doesn’t get that big contract without another losing out on it. The championship sports team doesn’t win without dozens of other teams in the league losing. One party doesn’t get elected without another losing the elections. Life, in many ways, is viewed by people in this way.

Resources on Earth are of a limited quantity. We all know this. There is an end to the oil, water and air quality we can expect to enjoy at some point in our future. That is if things continue on the path they are currently on. A little less “us” versus “them” and a little more community can make these limited resources go exponentially further.

Community Matters

Things don’t have to be this way in the everyday. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with friendly sportsmanship or a civil religious debate. What I am saying is that everyone can do well without having to push others down to move ahead.

Friendships that include empathy from both sides are the ones that last. Understanding, care and reasonable sacrifice can accomplish so much in a relationship. These are also the types of relationships people want. They provide stability and hope. A safety net develops in these sorts of groups.

This is the sort of thing that I want my son to experience throughout his life. He’s only 2-years old right now, but I’ve seen the beginnings of friendships and socialization happen for him at day care. He’s making friends and enjoying his time there. Cooperation and sharing can be difficult to teach a group of toddlers, but it can happen over time. I believe the same thing when referring to adults.

How This Changes

I have hope that the world will turn around through my generation raising the next as one that feels empathetically. I’m not pushing the burden of this world’s problems on the next generation or refusing to acknowledge my own responsibility in helping to perpetuate the problem by a lack of action. I think that only once our generation finishes what it can and the next picks up where we leave off will anything real and lasting take hold. Positive change in the world only comes through understanding and feeling the needs of those around you. It isn’t enough to just be nice to someone without understanding their troubles. People react the way they do because of an innumerable set of variables. Some of these variables are changeable and some are not.

A problem can best be solved once it is understood in the way that it affects those that deal with it. The view from the ground is needed in order to come up with the most effective solution to an issue. Empathy allows for problems to be understood in a way that is impossible without it. Bill Nye, known to many as The Science Guy, recently told Rutgers University’s graduating class of 2015; “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Take that in. Yes, many of these things are small and perhaps not significant in the long run. Some of them, however, are ideas so powerful that they have the power to change entire societies.

My son’s generation will be the most connected generation (technologically speaking) in the history of our planet. This brings with it the possibility of knowledge being shared that can secure a peaceful future for humankind for millennia to come. It also holds with it the risk of our race becoming ever increasingly self-centered and uncaring about the world and those around them. I hope to raise a child who eventually becomes that empathetic adult who can through his actions, large or small, make the world a better place by the time he leaves it than it was when he arrived.

People matter. Caring for others matters. Until the world gets more empathetic people in it those many unnecessary struggles and violent actions covered on the nightly news will not stop.

Am I right to place my hope in this and the next generation to not continue the mistake of the previous ones? Tell me in the comments.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Joel – I agree with you but wouldn’t use the word “hope” for the next generation. I think we need, and I’m sure you agree, to actively foster that in our youth as opposed to just hope – not only for our own kids, but also ask for it as parents in our kids’ schools. I’m a little concerned that many parents who lack empathy are imbuing that in their own kids, creating a vicious circle. Super thoughtful piece.

  2. Good and thoughtful post, Joel. It’s definitely a responsibility we all share to work toward making the world a better place and hopefully, as parents, we can model this for our children and help them inherit (and contribute to) an even better world as they grow.

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