My path to empathy has made many twists and turns, encountering some bumps and bruises along the way but always taking me to a better place than before. My first experiences around empathy were led by my parents and grandparents. They were continually looking out for others with their time, talents or finances. This was actually played out daily in our home as my little brother had ADHD. This disorder basically runs rampant in my extended family so I was constantly challenged to put myself in his as well as others shoes. This was by no means something that came naturally, my first instinct was to fight it and I did. I tolerated him just fine - wasn’t that enough? I did not want to walk in his shoes, I wanted to be annoyed and exercise my right to tattle and complain at his level of energy and quick wit.
My parents did not give up on me learning the art of empathy. I was pushed to move past mere tolerance and land at developing a healthy respect. As I moved from middle school to high school all that my mom and dad had modeled started to actually take shape. I moved from following their trail to blazing my own. I began to actually respect the fact that he could just be on the move all the time and he was hilarious.
This gamechanger is what a good friend of mine would call a kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek word meaning a pivotal moment in time. My trajectory drastically changed and crazy things began to happen; I became protective of him. I discovered a new and heightened admiration for my parents and his teachers. I spent several summers volunteering at a camp that had a special week for those with exceptionalities. Preparation for that week as a counselor was pretty intense. We were put through numerous exercises to be able to experience how our campers lived. Simple tasks that I would take for granted and perform without much thought or effort proved tedious and time intensive for the campers. During that week I cared for their every need, which stretched me in ways that I didn’t know were possible; advancing me down the path even further. I ended up majoring in special education.My drive was to be an advocate for students with exceptionalities and help level the playing field of acadamia.
With kiddos of my own now, empathy is something I desire for them to embrace at an early age. We are always looking for teachable moments to emphasize the importance of this trait. When asked at my children’s school what I would like to see them learn, I actually wrote down “empathy” along with the typical academic hopes.
Reflecting back on my walk I have discovered that the art of empathy is something that must be continually practiced. Much like working out maintains your endurance, empathy must be exercised. I look forward to this journey and leading my own kids down this path just as my parents did for me years ago.
- Angie Dawson- P2E Crew