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Empathy – Why it matters and how to teach it

We love a good debate about life skills here at Role Models. Recently, we went to a fascinating talk on a key life skill, empathy. Sir Peter Bazalgette was discussing his book, [Link href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crO4b4fUT5M" text="“The Empathy Instinct”]. He confirmed what we’ve known for a long time and why we discuss this skill as part of our young leaders programme.

Developing empathy

Developing empathy is a key life skill for young people in particular. Seeing the world through other people’s eyes and understanding how other people feel is as important a life skill as reading and writing. It allows young people to develop instincts and relationships that give them a great foundation from which to grow their emotional intelligence. Why does this matter? Well, we do lots of work trying to understand why better life skills mean better results. Nearly 3,000 science articles have been published on emotional intelligence (or EQ as it is sometimes called) since the concept was first introduced. These studies all point to the fact that EQ and soft skills are mostly influenced by our early childhood experiences and they can be dramatically improved with substantial effort, guidance, and coaching. It’s one of the reasons our business exists.

Children developing empathy

How can you help your children develop empathy? You can take them to the theatre for starters. Seeing a play or a musical is all about seeing things from different perspectives. Afterwards, talk to them about the characters, the action, the ending and get them to explain why seeing things from all sides really matters. A painting can reveal a thousand things too. Why has the artist done it like that? From the artist’s point of view, why does that matter? What is it about the artist’s life that has given them that perspective? You can easily teach empathy in lots of everyday situations too. How do you think that made the other person feel is often a better question than why did you do that?

The Empathy Museum

We’ve also noticed something else this month that we think is worth a visit. The Empathy Museum is the world’s first experiential space dedicated to developing the skill of empathising. Their current exhibition is a fantastic idea. You can find it between the 8th and 25th February at the Migration Museum, London SE1 7AG. “A Mile in My Shoes” is a space where visitors are invited to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – literally. Housed in a giant shoebox, this exhibit holds a diverse collection of shoes and audio stories that explore our shared humanity. From a Syrian refugee to a sex worker, a war veteran to a neuro surgeon, visitors are invited to walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger whilst listening to their story. The stories cover different aspects of life, from loss and grief to hope and love and take the visitor on an empathetic as well as a physical journey. They now have a collection of over 150 stories/shoes and have welcomed over 10,000 visitors since September 2015.

Now, that’s what we call creative.

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