Students Share About Empathy

Mrs. M.L. Carillo is the morning home-room teacher for middle school students. Every Monday she asks students to share about their weekend experiences, usually focusing on empathy or other character strengths (The Principled Academy focuses on the 24 strengths within each person as part of the character education program). She calls their names randomly as a name on a popsicle stick represents each student.

One boy was anxious to share about his experience with the US postal service: "The most frustrating thing happened to me, and I was angry. I was anxiously waiting for a package that was supposed to be delivered on Saturday. But by Saturday night, nothing appeared. I checked my order status online, and it said, "Delivery delayed because of animal interference." I was sure this meant that the driver was lazy, and he would deliver it the next day."

Several students raised their hands. "How do you know he was lazy?" asked one girl. "Perhaps his wife was in the hospital and he needed to see her as soon as possible." "Have you ever delivered anything?" asked another boy. "It's a very difficult job." "Where is your empathy for a guy who is probably being paid minimum wage?"

A girl raised her hand and shared about a powerful experience in her family: "My mom  experienced cancer and the treatment made her lose her hair. My dad and I wanted to make her feel our support and love. So we shaved our heads and became my mom's look-alikes. She was so touched that she began to laugh, cry, and give us big hugs. We felt our mom's pain and wanted to comfort her. The joyful part of the story is that my mom is now cancer free."

The first boy realized that he was making assumptions about the delivery person, and he could now see by re-framing his view of what happened there was no need for anger; rather, he could have developed his character strength of patience.

Mrs. Carrillo helps students through exercises in "mindfulness," where they can quietly examined their thoughts and choose to develop character strengths rather than responding to situations on auto-pilot.

Mose Durst is an author, educator, and the former president of the Unification Church of the United States. He received a master’s degree and PhD while studying English Literature at the University of Oregon. He taught at a number of colleges and currently teaches literature and history at the Principled Academy in San Leandro, California. He has published eight books including Principled Education, Shakespeare’s Plays, and Oakland, California: Towards A Sustainable City.