Thursday, 1 March 2018

How to build empathy

I was talking to a friend a few days ago and it suddenly hit me that the little bit of empathy that I have been able to develop over the course of my life has been because of my parents. More specifically, by the small things that they taught me to do. 

I used to live alone at home and during summer breaks, couriers or posts would get delivered in the afternoon. I was taught to always offer water to the person delivering the post/courier. I was made aware of the fact that in Ahmedabad's blistering heat, these people work outside so offering water was the least we could do. 

Arjun bhai is the name of the person who washes the dishes at my home. I eat lunch at 11:30 or 12:00 and he comes to wash the dishes at 3:00pm. There were once a few days when he took a leave and I was helping my mother with the plates in the evening. Now the plates had dried up because they had been lying in the sink for a while now. My mother used it as a teaching moment and taught me how before you put your plate in the sink, always wash it with water so that it becomes easier for the person who is going to clean them properly later on. I know it might not seem like a big thing but I think you only realize the difference when you are washing the plates that were put in the sink a few hours ago and were not washed. Similar story for picking up your plate after you have finished eating. 

When I started driving a two wheeler, I was my parent's official Uber moto. I used to take them wherever they wanted to go. I liked to drive and they wanted to coach me on being a better driver. One thing that they would always focus on was how and where I parked my vehicle. I was taught how a vehicle on a side stand takes up a lot more space than a vehicle on a double stand. I was taught how you should always be aware of where you are parking the vehicle least it becomes a problem for someone else. 

The point of these three instances (and many more) was that they were little things. All it required was for someone to make you aware of something. The change it brought was immense. It was a lens shift for me right from my childhood. I was always pushed to think from the other person's perspective. I was pushed to care about other people and shown why I should do it. 

My parents, knowingly or unknowingly, were building empathy. I don't think I am the most empathetic person in the world, far from it. I believe that I am slightly more empathetic because of these small actions that my parents took. 

What are such small things you can do for the students in your class? What can you do to build empathy in yourself? 

Building empathy is not a goal. Its a journey. Start today.

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