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Can Empathy be Taught?

Empathy:the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

How do you know when someone gets IT?

Yesterday my student earned her first white belt.As we applied hand sanitizer and a approached the exit, my other student (a yellow belt w/ a younger sister who earned her white belt a few months ago) asked with a BIG SMILE I could see in his eyes through his face mask, “Sifu, I have a question, how does it feel to reward someone a white belt?” His question caught me off guard, as I paused to blink back the leak in my eyes (must have been fumes from the hand sanitizer – LOL!), his follow up question gave me hope, “She did such a good job, were you as excited as she was?”

I got myself together and replied as I held back part of my empathy to not rob him of his good feelings he was trying to understand, “It’s the BEST feeling in the world to see you guys excited and so anxious to learn more about the things I enjoy sharing with you.”

Where I was not surprised by the maturity of this 13 year old. I’ve known him since he was born and have taught him off and on (around his list of activities: swimming, soccer, video games, learning Chinese, love of books and his sisters list of activities requiring both parents to balance transportation options) since he was 6 years old. I have also taught both of his parents before he was born (his father is still a student) and our families spend time together outside the martial art studio. All the above make me as proud to be a part of his upbringing as I am to continue to build our martial art family atmosphere. What caught me off guard was the hope I felt in his pure and simple question. He confirmed the most challenging ‘lesson’ I work to instill in my students is getting through…‘empathy’ can be taught, learned and when it shows up it feels like hand sanitizer in your eyes :).

Our theme for the month in our TWE Juniors class is Optimism – Our Definition: “to have faith in a future outcome.”

I am optimistic about a world with young men who are not afraid to show learn and show empathy.

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