Empathy - Let's Make Sure Our Kids Understand What That Means

Dan Rather.PNG

So you're probably wondering why I chose to highlight a picture of Dan Rather in a blog posting about kids and empathy. A few weeks ago, an article in The National about Dan Rather titled Working Class Hero caught my eye. In his essay, Dan Rather shares his views on how a lack of empathy is contributing to the divisiveness in this country. Rather was a child of the Depression. He learned the meaning of empathy through witnessing and experiencing hardship: seeing others around him lose jobs, lose homes, be hungry. It was also during those times where he witnessed acts of kindness. He saw what it meant to put oneself in the shoes of others with humility, and without judgment. Those with so little, helped those with even less. Empathy played a key role in bringing communities together during a time of great hardship, and that made America a stronger, more united nation. 

A few days later, as I was taking care of daily house chores, I took a moment to watch Addie and Taylor playing one of their favorite pastimes, family. I was intrigued by their roles, and asked them what they were pretending. Here's the scenario they explained to me:

  • Dad passed away from lung cancer at the age of 55.
  • Mom (played by Addie) is now a single mom of 4 kids. She has a high schooler, middle schooler, 3rd grader and baby. 
  • The oldest, the high school boy (played by Taylor), helps babysit his 3 younger siblings. He also happens to have a girlfriend named Katie Hunter. (I found the detail of him having a girlfriend, and having a first and last name for her adorable). 

They told me what they were playing very matter-of-factly. I, on the other hand, had a knee jerk reaction, which thankfully I managed to keep to myself.  That's so sad! Why are they pretending the dad died?! It's such a depressing situation! They should pretend something normal, something happy... But as I stood there by the stairs, watching them play, it dawned upon me that my kids were putting themselves in the shoes of others, and I remembered Dan Rather's article. In essence, they were practicing empathy. These days, it seems that many in positions of power and wealth, especially in the current government, could use a lesson or two on empathy.  Blaming problems on others, especially those that are victims of discrimination, or those living in poverty only divides us more. As a parent, and as a concerned American, I encourage you to read Dan Rather's essay. Maybe more empathy is what this country needs right now. And as parents, we need to do our part by demonstrating empathy, and making sure our kids understand what that means.