TW regular Imogen Bond, founder of Bumblebee Books, considers the power and importance of empathy.
Recently I came across EmpathyLab UK and this year’s Read for Empathy collection – 50 brilliant fiction books recommended for 4-16 year olds, that will help build young people’s empathy. Since 2014, the organisation has been researching empathy, and has found that empathic people are made, not born. In fact just 10% of our empathic ability is genetic, and 98% of us can improve our empathy skills at any point in our lives. Empathy is also prized by employers; 94% say they value social and emotional skills more than qualifications and, for young people, research shows that social and emotional skills are more significant to their academic attainment than IQ. This obviously means our empathy needs nurturing at every stage of our lives.
So how do you grow your own? EmpathyLab is right to recommend reading. As fantastic children’s author Malorie Blackman says: “Reading allows us to view the world – and ourselves – through another’s eyes and to walk in their shoes for a while, developing understanding. This is the very essence of connecting and communicating with others. Reading is such a wonderful way to bring people together in a world that increasingly seeks to build walls and barriers between people.”
Taking part in creative activities inspired by what you’re reading develops your empathy even further – to write a story, or create a piece of art based on what you’ve read, requires you to think more deeply and consider it in relation to your own experiences, developing your imaginative response, your curiosity about how others live and love.
Very young children do this naturally as they play – their imaginative games enable them to step into another’s shoes. They can easily pretend to be something or someone they are not. As our embarrassment at pretending grows, this imaginative play is a skill we might lose. However, nurtured in the right way, this ability to imagine from someone else’s point of view can be developed, and could be an incredibly powerful resource to help build a kinder society.
With so much division and hardship in the world right now, it feels like growing your own empathy might be pointless – it’s just a drop in the ocean. But we need to start somewhere, don’t we? So here is the Bumblebee recipe:
Read, imagine, create, share. It’s worth a go.