Never have we more needed empathy as part of our life

Sometimes you wonder if you could turn back the clock and relive elements of your life, just how far back you would go? And what elements would you change? And would you use this Benjamin Button power to enrich yourselves with things material or imagined?

But it is only through living life forwards that you gain the experience to see just how enriched you could be if you were to reverse it. With wisdom comes the ability to be more calm, to be less of a psychopath, to have the confidence in the face of a fastpaced life to be able to pause, to take a breath, to let whatever fleeting anger there is pass by, before you make whatever decision you make.

And while many might opt for a greater amount of commonsense,

if I had that choice again, I think I would opt for a greater share of empathy.

Empathy is perhaps one of the greatest human powers. If computers and machines ever get the ability to read each other’s minds and to place themselves in the heart of another, it will be hailed as a watershed.

Yet, we humans have that ability to learn empathy, but we mostly shun the opportunity.

It is a sad thought that as you get older and see more the need for empathy, you regret that the best time to have received it would have been when in short trousers. Being blessed with a good dose of empathy then would make you traverse life by a straighter route, rather than the circuitous journey that most people go on before they fully arrive at the place where they feel empathy.

Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.

I talk about empathy this week because there is a greater demand now for the teaching of empathy to be given as equal a prominence as the teaching of the other core subjects in school.

In the past it was felt that empathy was not capable of being transferred through education, that you either had it or you didn’t. But I disagree. I see empathy being passed to children from parents. I see young people learning it from mentors. People of all ages can achieve a high level of empathy by being exposed to what it means.

Many young people learn empathy from organisations such as Foroige and youth clubs where there is a desire to do the right thing, to have empathy for others so as to enrich yourself.

True empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering.

And while many may scoff at the idea of there being a place on our curricula for wellbeing and empathy training, a generation of it being a core aspect of schooling would reduce the radicalisation and extremism that is becoming commonplace.

Social media too has played its part. We now have the ability to transfer our hurt across the globe. Where once, that was limited to those such as in this profession who were lucky enough to have a typewriter, a microphone, or an audience, now the ability to mock, or to show yourself lacking in empathy is made possible through new channels.

Now more than ever, we need to look at the importance of empathy. A conference entitled Rediscovering Empathy will be held here in Galway next month that will advance this cause. What emerges could map the style of education for future generations.


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