The children of the future: Strong minds, warm hearts
Educate in empathy to reduce violence and increase happiness is the key to having a stronger society.
The brain areas that regulate empathy overlap in part with those of violence, so activation of these brain circuits in one direction, for example, in empathy, could act biologically as an inhibitor of the other.
Violence and empathy, therefore, would be related but incompatible concepts, so the more empathetic someone is, the less chance there is that they will use violence as a way to resolve conflicts. It is, therefore, the other side of the same coin, so the best strategy to reduce violence is to promote empathy.
The equation, then, would be clear: educating girls and boys in empathy would contribute to making the world a better and less violent place.
Not surprisingly, neuroscience points out empathy as a key tool to fight against bullying. Given this reality, it is strange, to say the least, that programs developed to prevent and eradicate bullying have focused more on identifying the type of bullying and not on working on promoting empathy as a way to resolve conflict.
The most important job is to prevent bullying and in this aspect, empathy education is a key piece. Giving children and adolescents tools to deal with it is essential, but providing them with empathic skills is essential because that way they can always put themselves in the place of the one who suffers and they will act to stop it.
Empathy from the start
We are all born with a variable and genetic predisposition to be empathetic. However, lived experiences, learning, the family environment and education are going to influence considerably the development of empathy.
In this sense, the first life experiences are already “crucial” for the development of empathy, so it is fundamental to promote an empathetic environment for minors from the first moment: due to the biological predisposition that exists in humans, the lack of this by caregivers in the first moments of life can greatly impair their development.
In the educational field, on the other hand, this education in empathy must take place from the nursery school, at which time the first teasing or verbal aggression towards other children may appear, but points out that one must be especially vigilant in puberty and during the period that precedes it since that is when the risk increases exponentially.
In this sense, it is “necessary” to include empathy as a subject in the curriculum of the youngest, as is already the case in countries like Denmark, but also to train teachers and even mothers and fathers, so that empathy education occurs transversally in all the subjects they take and in all areas of their lives.
Unfortunately and until now, empathy has not been taken into account in educational policies. The reliable test for the expert is the teacher selection process. What is taken into account to select them?
Well, basically qualifications to access the studies in teaching, and then performance in a competition-opposition to access the public educational system. But at no time is their emotional intelligence or empathy evaluated, something fundamental from my point of view, since I consider that it is the most important profession and the one that contributes significantly to creating the base of society.
Let’s not forget fathers, mothers and/or guardians of minors, who have the same responsibility for education in empathy as in any other aspect of the education of their children.
In this regard, there is the need for mothers and fathers to be attentive to overprotection, allow the development of their own autonomy, and enhance self-esteem, spirituality and creativity in their sons and daughters.
Also, in this sense, parents must reflect on the great concern for their children’s emotions and values, for that empathy of which we have mentioned.
Empathy brings a multitude of advantages in all areas of our lives. One of those advantages is happiness. To more empathetic boys and girls, happier boys and girls. It is no wonder, therefore, that Denmark has spent years leading the ranking of the happiest countries in the world.
The most empathetic people have a greater interest in the well-being of others, which is reflected in small details in the day-to-day that range from active listening to the compression of emotional states.
For this reason, they are more loved and respected people, who are sought unconsciously and many of them, accompanied by other characteristics, have great leadership skills.
We speak, thanks to empathy, of respectful, mentally flexible and supportive people, so that others feel accepted showing themselves as they are.
They, in turn, trust each other and have a great capacity to cooperate, which is why they better reconcile their personal and work life. For all these reasons, they are happier people, since they tend to find signs of affection and receptivity in all areas of their lives.
In addition, all these listed benefits could have others that, indirectly, would have an impact on health, since social support is a protector against depression and anxiety, as well as for the prevention of the development of alterations related to stress processes, such as immunological, gastrointestinal, muscular, dermatological, etc.
The greater ability to reconcile, mental flexibility and respect for others, for their part, would also contribute to a positive predisposition that can strengthen the general state of health.
Lastly, empathy would also influence our mental strength, which is known as resilience, since it would help both to better cope with the trauma experienced throughout our lives, as well as to learn from them and use them as part of our personal growth.