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Empathy Is Tough to Teach, But Is One Of the Most Important Life Lessons

Dr. Brené Brown has become famous for her speaking and writing about vulnerability, worthiness, shame and the other important emotions running underneath daily life all the time. One theme she returns to over and over is the importance of cultivating empathy, a very different reaction than sympathy.

Dr. Brown says empathy consists of four qualities: the ability to take the perspective of another person, staying away from judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and communicating it. She defines empathy as “feeling with people,” and notes that it’s a “vulnerable choice” because it requires a person to tap into something personal that identifies with the struggle of another.

Children have opportunities to learn empathy from their parents, but also from their teachers and peers. Reading good literature can be a powerful way to develop empathy, as is studying history or being present with a friend on the playground who is having a hard time. Empathy is not found in many official school standards, but it could be one of the most important qualities to develop in young citizens who will go on to be successful actors in a complicated world.

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