All different, all equal: Where has all the empathy gone?

 

This week is anti-bullying week, the tagline being “all different, all equal”. What a wonderful world it would be if that was indeed the case.

My work with HeadStart Kernow is focussed upon the importance of relationship, and the impact this can have on our emotional health and wellbeing, both positive and negative. We talk a lot about modelled behaviour, the way young people learn from watching those around them.

Last week, I spent 20 minutes sat in a supermarket car park. During that time I saw various examples of a complete lack of empathy. It didn’t surprise me, but it did leave me feeling dejected.

Park it

First an elderly lady opened her car door and hit the car next to her not once, but three times. A young gentleman was sat in the aforementioned car. He got out and ever so politely asked the lady if she wouldn’t mind being a little more careful when opening her door. After an impressive attempt to completely ignore him, the lady responded “I didn’t touch it, I don’t know what you are talking about” before walking off to cause havoc with her trolley.

As this situation was unfolding, in front of me a middle-aged couple with teenage children boldly pulled into the last “Parent and Child Space”. They got out as bold as brass, and sauntered into the shop without even a glance at the two other cars, complete with children in car seats, who were waiting to park in these spaces.

Shortly after this I witnessed a large man completely disregard all of the parking spaces available, opting instead to pull up alongside the store entrance and leave his car obstructing the flow of traffic, also making it very difficult for people to reverse out of the disabled spaces opposite.

Finally, and this is a classic. The case of someone far too important and busy to take their trolley back to the trolley park. Admittedly, this would have required a 20 meter walk and possibly added 30 seconds to their shopping experience, but why bother when someone else will do it and you can just leave it by the side of their car making the space unusable.

Bullying

You may wonder what this has to do with bullying, but the point is that all of these examples stemmed from a lack of regard for others and a total focus on satisfying one’s own needs.

Bullying is a classic example of complete disregard for others and total lack of empathy. Empathy requires a desire and an ability to put yourself in the position of another and understand the situation from their perspective. Unfortunately, society would appear to be witnessing an erosion of empathy that is evident all around us.

Whether online, or in the real world, bullying is a painful experience for the victim and can have extremely severe consequences. I appreciate that many people who are guilty of bullying behaviour have deep seated issues and are experiencing a level of complexity in their lives that I could not even begin to imagine. However, there are also those who simply display  a disregard for others learned from the adults around them.

Think of others

It would be oversimplifying things to say that increased empathy would see the end of bullying. It wouldn’t. However, we could see a massive impact if we were to focus as much on others as we do on ourselves. Feel what they are feeling and manage our behaviour accordingly. This is just as applicable in a supermarket car park as in a school playground or on social media.

I am not advocating that we try and shoehorn “empathy lessons” into the already over-crowded school day. The answer is far simpler.

Each and every one of us has a choice to make every day. We need to show young people that the feelings of others matter. We all need to stand up and take responsibility and ‘model’ the kind of empathy we wish to see in others. 
 

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