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This is What Empathy Looks Like

HEART is working hard to spread humane education as far and wide as possible. We have most recently expanded to Highland Park, Michigan, a historic city outside of Detroit, and are providing a ten week program focusing on empathy and compassion to two seventh grade classes at Highland Park Renaissance Academy.
It has been heart-warming to witness the empathy and compassion the students have expressed for other living beings in just a couple of sessions. To begin discussions on these core values they listened to an NPR story about a man who had just been mugged by a teenage boy but still showed compassion for his assailant. The man invited the teenager to dinner, gave him his jacket, treated him to a meal, and asked him to think about what he wants out of life. The boy was in awe of the kindness this man showed him. When the teenager asked why the man was being so nice to him, the man simply responded by saying, “Weren’t you taught to be nice to everybody?” The teenager thought for a minute and then responded, “Yes, but I didn’t think anybody really acted that way.”
The students were asked what they thought would have happened to the teenager if he had not been shown compassion and they responded that he probably would have “continued to live in a world of violence”, “robbed more people”, “gone to jail”, or “ended up dead”.  It was difficult for the students to believe that someone could be so generous and one young man even stated, “This sounds like something out of a movie, not real life.”
HEART instructor, Kim Korona, warned the students to think of safety first and explained that we are not telling them to do what this man did, but to see him as an example of someone who shows empathy. If he can extend his compassion to a stranger who tried to rob him, then what does that mean about our own empathy?  Students were asked, can we extend our compassion to those around us, such as our classmates, a homeless person, a stray animal, or even our global neighbors who we may never meet? We think you’ll be able to guess the answer. Yes. Students believed that empathy was critically important and that we should do our best to be kind to everyone.
As the 7th graders progress in the program and learn about issues like animal homelessness, puppy mills, wild animals in captivity, factory farming, animal testing, and deforestation, they will put together service learning projects to help others, and brainstorm ways that they can live a more compassionate life.
The students will continue to learn about more animal and environmentally related issues and be challenged to put their empathy and compassion to the test by helping others through creative service learning projects, and practicing compassion in their day-to-day lives.
Photo Credit: Moyan Brenn / Flickr

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