Empathy

I will consider other people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Activity 1 – Water Line

Imagine you are standing in line to get water from a pump or standpipe and a young fit girl comes along and asks if she could go in front of you. Do you let her?

Now, suppose you know that her mother and father have died, and she lives with her grandmother who is old and frail. The girl has to do all the household chores, tend the garden and look after three siblings. Would this make you more likely to let her go ahead of you?

Do you show empathy and imagine how you would feel in her position?

Who else might you allow to go ahead of you in the line?

The point about empathy is that you consider other people’s thoughts, feelings, and circumstances and try to imagine yourself living their lives.

In many ways, empathy is the first step to ethical behaviour as it allows us to respond compassionately to the suffering of others and exercise good judgment when our actions may affect someone else. Understanding another’s perspective is not only critical to building better personal relationships, but also makes us better citizens in our local and global communities. Empathy promotes tolerance, consideration, and compassion amongst us all. If you are to be empathetic towards someone you need to observe carefully their mood and listen carefully and with interest when they tell you about the things that concern them.

Activity 2 – Active Listening

In order to understand another’s perspective you must first learn about them. Sensitive questioning and active listening are the key to this understanding. Active listening is the act of listening to understand rather than to reply or rebut. There are several key parts to active listening:

  • You must concentrate on not talking while the other person is talking. Be sure to pay attention and to look directly at the speaker.
  • Be sure you are listening to the other person talking, instead of preparing your reply.
  • Make sure you are paying attention to how the person is behaving.
  • Be aware of the body language of the other person.
  • Let the other person know that you’re listening—for example, by nodding your head or reacting to what they said.
  • When the other person stops talking, try to paraphrase or translate what they said. This technique helps to ensure there is a clear understanding.
  • Try to recognise the individual’s feelings—for example: “You sound angry” or “You seem to be upset,” etc.

Practice active listening with someone, using the guidelines above. The topic is not important, but it should not be so trivial as to be unimportant. This can take place between you and a friend or an adult that you feel safe with. Discuss at least three points or aspects of the topic (ex: sharing a story, giving opinions, or discussing facts). Think carefully about what you learned about the person’s point of view.

  • What was their emotional state (angry, frustrated, bored, or happy)?
  • What did you learn about them that you didn’t know before?
  • Do you feel different about the person or subject now than you did before the active listening session?

Activity 3 – Settling Disputes

Think of one example of something that causes people to argue (to have disputes) in each of the following settings:

(a) in your family, (b) in school, (c) in your community.

Explain how you could use active listening and empathy to defuse (calm down) each situation?


Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another
and feeling with the heart of another.

Alfred Adler


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