Bullying is endemic to our schools and schools around the world. It seems as if there have always been and will always be kids who get a charge out of pushing around other little dudes. Basically, what we’re seeing is a lack of empathy.
Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Basically what that means is that we can see things from the point of view of another person and, for the most part, get a rough idea of what it feels like to be that other person in certain circumstances.
Say, for instance, that you’re watching ESPN and the channel shows the on-field football injury to Joe Theisman’s leg. (I’m putting the link to that here for those of you who haven’t experienced it, but I’m warning you, this is difficult-to-watch stuff. I, for one, refuse to watch it. I accidentally saw it the first time it happened, but never again.) You aren’t going to laugh. You’re going to feel his emotional pain. You might wince and mouth an obscenity. You know he’s hurting and you have some idea of what it’s like.
You’re seeing things from his perspective. That, dudes, is empathy.
And that is precisely what we think that bullies lack. They can’t put themselves in the place of those they bully. To a bully, everyone else is just window dressing, no more important a cardboard cut out of a person.
Without empathy, we would have no cohesive society, no trust and no reason not to murder, cheat, steal or lie. At best, we would act only out of self-interest; at worst, we would be a collection of sociopaths.
Although human nature has historically been seen as essentially selfish, recent science suggests that it is not. The capacity for empathy is believed to be innate in most humans, as well as some other species — chimps, for instance, will protest the unfair treatment of others, refusing to accept a treat they have rightfully earned if another chimp doing the same work fails to get the same reward.
Nearly 90 percent of brain growth takes place in a little dude’s first five years. And kids who have been exposed to violence, traumatized or neglected are going to grow up with the expectation that violence solves problems. They believe they can make their lives best by exercising power over other people. But there are ways to work around this scrambling up of our innate tendency toward empathy.
Start by teaching children to understand their own behavior and feelings — it provides the basic tools for understanding the behavior and feelings of others. For instance, when dealing with a child who has hurt another person, help him or her “anchor how they felt in the moment,” says Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy, a school-based program designed to foster compassion. “We always think we should start with, ‘How do you think so-and-so felt?’ But you will be more successful if you start with, ‘You must have felt very upset.’ The trick is to help children describe how they felt, so that the next time this happens, they’ve got language. Now they can say, ‘I’m feeling like I did when I bit Johnny.’ “
But just understanding suffering alone doesn’t teach empathy. The problem is that little dudes who are exposed to violence in their formative years learn the wrong lessons. They learn that violence is the way to deal with emotions like anger and fear or to assert power.
Research shows that simple exposure to other kinds of people in a friendly setting can increase your empathy toward them. That seems like something we can start to do in our own homes, expose little dudes and dudettes to love and encouragement, show them that real adults don’t always scream and hit. Seems simple, no. But it’s going to be hard work, so let’s get to it.Share on Facebook Tags: A Dude's Guide to Kids, A Dude's Guide to Teens, anger, Attitude, Attitudes, behavior, Brain, Bullies, Bully, Bullying, Cardboard, children, Chimp, Chimps, Cohesive Society, dude, Dude's, Dudette, Dudettes, Emotional Pain, emotions, Encouragement, Espn, family, Feelings, Football Injury, Freak, Freaky Friday, Freaky Friday, friend, health, Human Nature, Joe Theisman, kids, Lack Of Empathy, little dude, little dudes, love, Man, men, mom, Obscenity, pain, Point Of View, Recent Science, research, richard, Roots Of Empathy, Rough Idea, school, science, Seeing Things, Self Interest, Sociopaths, Teaching Children, Unfair Treatment, Violence