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Featured Get Inspired Self Help

5 Books That Teach Empathy and Kindness

We’ve got a mix of world literature, Pulitzer-Prize winning novels, a non-fiction recommendation, and even something for kids. Take your pick! 

  1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

What it’s about: 10-year-old Auggie Pullman has a facial disfigurement that makes him the target of bullying when he attends school for the first time.

Why we recommend it: “Wonder” is packaged as a children’s book but the situations presented are things that even grown-ups can relate to, such as the  anxieties that come with trying to fit in and the desire to be accepted for our differences.

Quotable quote: “We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What it’s about: An African-American man is wrongly accused of a crime, and his Caucasian neighbor steps up to defend him despite opposition from all fronts

Why we recommend it: The themes and lessons of this book are as important today as they were when the story was first published in 1960. We need to be reminded that despite increasing awareness and belonging to a “woke” generation, racial and class discrimination continue to affect many people around the world today.  

Quotable quote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

What it’s about: A father and son travel on foot across a post-apocalyptic land and in the process encounter a variety of people — some good, many bad. 

Why we recommend it: At first glance, killing, stealing, and committing acts of unspeakable cruelty seem to be the only ways one can survive in a cruel world. But the father constantly reminds his son to “carry the fire” — to act with kindness, compassion, and decency no matter how terrible things are. 

Quotable quote: “All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”

  1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

What it’s about: This is the first Afghan novel written in English. The main character, Amir, seeks atonement for betraying a friend. 

Why we recommend it: Amir spends much of the novel plagued by guilt, and it is only through empathy that he finds redemption and self-forgiveness.

Quotable quote: “Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything.”

  1. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

What it’s about: Studies the miscommunication, interactions, and assumptions people make when dealing with those that they don’t know. 

Why we recommend it: How many times have we avoided talking to people who think and act differently from us, resulting in conflicts or misunderstanding? By using real-life examples, Gladwell teaches us how we can bridge this divide and avoid failure of communication.
Quotable quotes: “The first set of mistakes we make with strangers…has to do with our inability to make sense of the stranger as an individual.”

Do you have your own book recommendations? Share them in the comments below!

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

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Employee Wellness Featured

6 Ways to Show Empathy in the Workplace

With just a few simple actions you can help build stronger connections, foster a culture of honesty and openness, and make a real difference to the emotional well-being of your colleagues.

Empathy, or the ability to understand other people’s emotions, is an important skill in the workplace. When you can see things from someone else’s perspective, it becomes easier to resolve conflicts, improve productivity, and improve relationships with co-workers, clients, and customers. 

Here are some ways you can practice empathy at work: 

  1. Don’t just listen, pay attention to non-verbal cues as well. When someone is talking, use your eyes and ears to understand the message. Pay attention to their tone and body language. Observe how they are saying things – not just what they are saying. 
  2. Keep an open mind. One of the first steps to developing empathy is to let go of your own assumptions/beliefs and consider the other person’s perspectives. Listen respectfully and try to see where they are coming from. Don’t debate right away; instead, invite the person to describe their situation more and ask them for their suggestions on how the issue can be resolved.
  3. Be curious about other people’s lives and interests. Don’t just put yourself in another person’s shoes – instead, reach out and try on as many shoes as you can. As you broaden your knowledge, you will come to understand that just because someone else’s life is different from yours does not mean they are lesser than you. 
  4. Take care of your own mental health. If you cannot manage your own emotions and are constantly stressed or on edge, it will be difficult for you to understand what others are going through.
  5. Display compassion. When someone is in trouble or confused, lend a hand. When a colleague is sad, offer a shoulder to cry on. And when someone is worried, give your full attention and listen without judgement. All these things are examples of showing empathy. 
  6. Show gratitude. When we are more thankful to each other, we also become kinder and more tolerant individuals. Showing gratitude can be as simple as gifting your coworkers with snacks or praising them publicly for a job well done. 

Practice these skills often to develop your empathy. When you take an interest in what others think, feel, and experience, you’ll develop a reputation for being caring, trustworthy and approachable — and be a great asset to your team and your organization.

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Featured Mental Health 101

Learning Empathy for Kids ages 7-12

We’ve learned in past articles that empathy is an important life skill that everyone should possess. The earlier that children practice empathetic habits the more likely they will continue to do it as they grow older.

By the time children reach the age of 5, they begin to outgrow the “me” mentality of their toddler years and become more attuned to things happening outside their own bubble. Once they reach the formative ages of 7 to 12 and spend more time at school than at home, they will interact more with peers and learn empathetic concepts like sharing and cooperating. Working together in the classroom will make them realize that people have different feelings than they do and that their actions can affect how others feel.

Here are ways you can cultivate your child’s empathy even more:

When talking about feelings, talk about the physical manifestations as well. 
Teach kids to link their own physical manifestations to specific experiences, so that they will develop a sense of what other people might feel in similar circumstances. For instance, if your child sees someone who is scared, you might ask her, “Remember that time when you saw the big, barking dog? How did that feel in your body?” By recalling her pounding heart and sweaty palms, she’ll instantly know what someone means when he says he’s afraid.

Put him/her in someone else’s shoes.
If she’s going through a hard time with a friend or even a sibling, try role-playing the situation and have her look at it from both points of view. If a younger sibling refuses to share his toys, she might come to realize that if he is allowed to enjoy his toy a few minutes longer, he might be more inclined to let others have a turn. It does not necessarily mean that he is acting selfishly, rather she just needs to be more patient. On other hand, her own feelings of frustration and disappointment will teach her how hurtful rejection can be – and help her to be kinder the next time she does not want to share something herself.

Help children understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
It’s vital for children to learn that sometimes, concern for others should trump their own happiness. For example, they should do household chores even if they would rather watch tv, they should be polite even if they are in a bad mood, and they should not interrupt if their parents are talking to other people. 

Prioritize caring in your children’s lives. 
For example, when you ask your child about her day in school, don’t just ask if she listened to the teacher or did well in her written works. Ask her if she also showed care and helpfulness to classmates or other adults.

Continue to demonstrate empathy for others, especially those different from you.
Be a good role model. Reflect on how you treat the waiter at the restaurant or the salespeople at the mall. In addition, consider regularly engaging in community service or model other ways of contributing to a community. Even better, do this with your child. Express interest in those from various backgrounds facing many different types of challenges.

The good news is you don’t have to be a professional to teach your child to be mindful and compassionate of other people’s emotions. By simply engaging with your child and practicing what you preach, you can easily pass on the lessons of empathy. 

Written by Jacq of MindNation

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Featured Mental Health 101

5 Ways to Cultivate Empathy in Small Children

Empathy is the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a particular situation and respond with compassion. It is a complex skill to develop in small children because they are still at an age when their needs are being met on-demand and they aren’t fully in control of their own emotions yet, let alone recognize what others may be feeling. However, empathy is also an essential life skill to learn because research has shown that it can build healthy and happy relationships with family and friends, as well as do well in school.

When a child is able to empathize, it means he or she can:

  • Understand that he/she is a separate individual, his/her own person
  • Understand that others can have different thoughts and feelings than he/she has
  • Recognize the common feelings that most people experience – happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, etc.
  • Look at a particular situation (i.e. watching a classmate tearfully say good-bye to his/her parent at play school) and imagine how he/she himself might feel in that moment
  • Imagine what response might be appropriate or comforting in the above situation – i.e. offer his/her friend a toy to comfort him/her

Here are some things parents can do to teach empathy to their toddler:

  • Show your child empathy. A common mistake parents make is to shush their child whenever he/she is crying – “Don’t be a crybaby, you have to be brave, you’re being embarrassing, etc.” Doing this teaches your child that feelings do not matter. Instead of brushing his emotions aside, ask him/her what is making him afraid or upset, acknowledge what he/she said, and find ways to resolve what is making him/her upset. “Are you afraid of the dog? I know his loud barks can be scary, but don’t worry, he is tied up so he cannot hurt you. Here, let me hold your hand as we pass by.”
  • Talk about other people’s feelings. In the same vein, when we see other toddlers crying or acting up, our first instinct is to hustle our own child away from the hubbub. But doing so teaches him/her that we should ignore other people’s unpleasant feelings. Instead of avoiding the situation, try discussing what happened – “How do you think he/she’s feeling?” and “Why is he/she feeling that way?” are questions that three-year-olds can easily understand and answer. Research has shown that when families routinely do this, kids can learn a lot about other people’s perspectives and how their minds function.

If your child personally knows the peer in distress (i.e. a family member or a classmate in play school), encourage him to personally reach out and find ways to offer comfort.

  • Be a role model. When your child sees you consistently acting kindly and respectfully to others (i.e. opening doors for strangers, carrying the things of older people, helping during times of crisis), they will emulate these habits as they grow older.
  • Use chores to teach them to be mindful and considerate of others. Toddlers can already be taught to pack away their toys, water the plants, and even set the table. Not only do these actions teach them about helpfulness, it also reinforces respect for others.
  • Be patient. Developing empathy takes time. There are teenagers (and even some adults) who lack empathetic skills, so don’t expect too much from your toddler. Especially between the ages of 0-3, it is perfectly normal for them to focus solely on themselves and their emotions, so the most you can do for now is to introduce the concept in their everyday lives so that it eventually becomes a habit.

Written by Jacq of MindNation

Categories
Mental Health 101

Empathy vs. Sympathy: Why empathy matters more

Empathy is one of the most important aspects of creating harmonious relationships, reducing stress, and enhancing emotional awareness.

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their perspective, and imagine yourself in their place. It is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling.

Empathy vs. sympathy

Empathy is often interchanged with sympathy, but while the two are related, they do not mean the same thing.

Sympathy is a shared feeling, usually of sorrow, pity, or compassion for another person. You show concern for another person when you feel sympathy for them.

For example, when someone experiences the death of a loved one, you feel sympathy towards that person. You may feel sad for them, but if you have not experienced a death in your own family, you might not have empathy for their situation.

On the other hand, empathy is stronger and deeper than sympathy. It is the ability to put yourself in the place of another and understand their feelings by identifying with them.

Why empathy is important

Without empathy, people will go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. It becomes easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions about others, and this often leads to misunderstandings, miscommunication, divisiveness, conflict, and fractured relationships.

Empathy encourages us to work out our differences more productively and maintain harmonious ties with people who may think and act differently from us, thereby reducing stress.

Empathizing with others also helps us regulate our own emotions. Emotional regulation is important because it allows us to manage what we are feeling, even in situations that are very upsetting, without becoming overwhelmed.

Lastly, empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are we more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when we feel empathy for other people, but other people are also more likely to help us when they experience empathy.

Tips for Practicing Empathy

If you would like to build your empathy skills, there are a few things that you can do:

  • Pay attention. Listen to people without interrupting. Pay attention to non-verbal cues like body language, as these can reveal what a person is really feeling.
  • Be curious. Instead of attacking someone for having a belief that is different from yours, engage in a calm, rational discussion and ask questions to find out why they think the way they do. More often than not, the answer lies in their life experience, which, while different from yours, is not wrong. Then examine your own biases and find out why you think differently from them.
  • Imagine yourself in another person’s shoes. Get out of your usual environment. Travel to new places or new environments, and mingle with the locals. Doing this will give you a new perspective of the world, and a better appreciation for others.
  • Be open to feedback. This is especially true in the workplace; don’t be afraid to receive constructive criticism from others. Humility is an important part of being an empathetic individual.

If you’re up for a challenge, try this: have a conversation with a stranger every week. It can be the security guard at your office building or the owner of the food stall where you get your lunch on weekdays. Doing this expands your worldview and improves your ability to empathize.

When we become sincere in developing understanding of others, we improve relationships and promote harmony in the community.

Written by Jacq of MindNation