Empathy

empathy

The questions for the anticipation guide were seemingly straightforward. One would think that responses — “Do you agree or disagree and why?” — to these questions would be somewhat predictable.

  1. Sometimes, it’s better to remain ignorant about certain things.
  2. It’s fair to treat people differently based on their intelligence.
  3. It is better to be smart and lonely than unintelligent and happy.
  4. Our relationships with other people, not our achievements, are what fulfill us.
  5. It is better to accept your fate than to try to change it.
  6. It is important to have empathy for others.

Granted, for question one, adolescents might not necessarily have learned the beauty of ignorance. It seems unlikely that any adult would disagree with the statement, and in fact, a slight majority of the students agreed this afternoon.

Question two is a bit tricky: most kids think of it as a question of politeness and manners. I’m almost always the only person indicating agreement with the statement. When I explain about differentiation and remind them of special education services, most students understand where I’m coming from and smile at how I “tricked” them.

Question three is fluff. It gets conversation going, but there’s really no expected response for what I (and I hope others) would consider a well-adjusted, emotionally healthy individual.

Question four hints at the shallowness of materialism. Students seem split on the issue, but for eighth graders, one might expect that.

Question five is an interesting question for my students because so many of them — particularly those who struggle in school — are completely fatalistic. Perhaps they don’t see that in themselves, though, because many disagree with this statement.

Question six, though, seems almost painfully predictable in a room of well-adjusted, emotionally healthy individuals. The inability to feel empathy, after all, is one of the most horrifying aspects of sociopaths and one of the most tragic facets of autism.

So when a young man looked at me this afternoon with an expression of disgust and almost anger when I asked him why he didn’t think empathy is important, why he disagreed when almost everyone else agreed, why he seemed put off by the fact that I was unable to hide my surprise at his response, it left me briefly speechless.

“You mean don’t think it’s important to try to understand the lives of those less fortunate than you?” I asked after a moment.

“I never thought about it,” came the flippant response.

“And now that you’ve thought about it?” I continued.

He shrugged and glared.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *