Building Empathy

Last week I blogged about emotional intelligence. This time, I thought we could look at one of the components of emotional intelligence – relationship skills.  Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences.  According to his work, two personal intelligences, intra- and inter-personal intelligences, are important aspects of a personal overall intellectual functioning.

High intrapersonal intelligence refers to being able to access your own emotions, discern your feelings, and understand personal strengths and weaknesses.  It includes good self-knowledge and analysis, internal organization, impulse control and creativity.

Interpersonal intelligence refers to discerning the moods of people around you, and choosing an appropriate method of responding. Components of this intelligence includes social analytical skills, leadership skills, negotiating skills, and social connections.

Both forms of personal intelligence enable children to manage their own emotional workings – something that can be challenging for our gifted youth.  Strengths in this area form the basis of good problem solving skills, decision-making and discernment.

So how do we help nurture these forms of intelligence?  Most researchers in this field agree that there are four distinct skills utilized in the development of personal intelligences:  Empathy, Nonverbal Communication, Listening, and Conflict Resolution Skills.  Developing these areas is the best way to increase and develop personal intelligence.

Empathy:  This term refers to a person’s ability to see the world from someone’s perspective.  It is the foundation of all social skills.  When it develops naturally in a child, it is a direct outgrowth of self-awareness.  Toddlers begin to see the world from their kid-centered view and move into an understanding of those outside of them as they develop.  At this point is when parents can see the seeds of empathy take root, as a toddler will often seek to console someone in pain.  As childhood continues, children begin to understand the impact of social situations of others.

Empathy skills are not related to rational intelligence – it’s purely emotional.  And it can be developed through acts of perspective taking and “why care” kind of questioning.

I’ll give you an example in our house.  From the time the children were born, we have told them that part of our job as people on the planet is to learn how to get along with all the other people on the planet.  “We aren’t the only ones here,”  I often say.  “Our needs and rights do not supersede the needs and rights of others, just as their need and rights do not supersede ours.  The goal is to find what is common between us and go from there.”

Everything I do moves in the direction of those words.  When I get cut off on the freeway, I say “Wow, I guess that person forgot they weren’t the only ones on the road”, when someone treats me poorly I say something similar.  Every moment becomes an opportunity to teach empathy.

Perspective taking is something schools do as well.  Part of the language arts curriculum focuses on writing from different characters points of view.  Guess what – that is perspective taking.  And that builds empathy!

Next post…Nonverbal Communication Skills.

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5 thoughts on “Building Empathy

  1. I read a book once where a certain secondary character in the novel was treated so poorly by the main characters, and I kept waiting for the story to turn so that there would be that moment of understanding where this secondary character could be treated differently. But that moment never came. To the very end of the book this character was treated so poorly and nothing came of it. All the focus was on the main characters and how their lives unraveled and then was fixed again. I was so disappointed. I just kept thinking that the book lacked a certain wisdom, but I couldn’t really put it into words. But it’s really all about empathy, isn’t it? Without it, our stories fall apart in our lives and our fiction.

  2. Pingback: Building Empathy | Empathy and Compassion | Scoop.it

  3. May I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

    I posted a link to your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world
    http://bit.ly/dSXjfF

  4. That is so interesting! And I really like how you put it to your kids, too.. Thanks Christine!

  5. Pingback: Gifted kids and relationships – building skills that last « An Intense Life

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