A Culture of Empathy

A Culture of Empathy

Thursday, 30 April 2015  | Brad - MS Coordinator
In a recent Middle School assembly, we introduced our focus for the term: developing a culture of empathy.

What is culture?

One of the key things that has dominated my thinking and planning as Middle School Coordinator this year is culture. There are many complex definitions of culture in organisation and management books, but at a practical level, it can best be thought of as “the way we do things around here.” This definition is easy to grasp, and to my mind, comprises two key elements.

Firstly, it forces one to examine the present reality of how an organisation actually functions—at times, this can be quite confronting! In our context, asking “How do we do things in Middle School?” requires us to shine a light on all areas of operation, going far beyond rules and classes and programs.

The second element of culture is aspirational; it defines an organisation’s hopes and dreams, and requires one to ask, “How do we want to do things around here?” In our context, it necessitates that students and teachers alike ask, “What sort of Middle School do we want to be?”

Who is responsible for culture?

In our assemblies, classrooms and one-on-one conversations this year, we have consistently and intentionally empowered students to share in the responsibility of building a positive culture in the Middle School. Rules don’t make culture. Teachers don’t make culture. It is something for which we all are responsible, and something to which we all contribute.

A culture of empathy

Empathy is a concept that is often discussed, but I would argue, often misunderstood. Many reduce the idea to simply “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” but I do not feel that this captures the full meaning. In introducing the concept of empathy to students, we directed their attention to a statement made by Jesus, now often referred to as ‘the Golden Rule’:

Matthew 7:12 [NIV]  
“…do to others what you would have them do to you…”
In other words, treat other people the way that you want to be treated.

This is a really good start, but alone it is not enough. Each of us is different; we are motivated by different things, frustrated by different things and upset by different things. There will be some jokes, some comments and some actions that would not bother you personally, but that doesn’t mean that they will affect someone else the same way.
Merely “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” and contemplating how you would feel in the same situation is a good habit to get into, but it is not enough. In fact, Jesus ups his challenge in Mark 12:30-31. When asked which commandment is the most important, Jesus replies:

Mark 12:30-31 [NIV]
30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Love your neighbour as yourself.

Loving someone requires that we do more than just think about how we would like to be treated or what we would like other people to do for us. Loving someone requires knowing them, understanding them, appreciating their idiosyncrasies and valuing what they have to offer—in short, loving someone requires that we empathise with them.

So, what sort of Middle School do we want to be?

These are the challenges that we have put forth to Middle School students this term:

What do we want to be the defining characteristics of Middle School culture?
What practical things can each of us do to achieve this culture?

Personally, my prayer is for the Middle School to be characterised by empathy; a place where people—students and staff alike—know that they are loved, respected and understood. A place that recognises and values the diversity of skills and abilities that God blesses us with and encourages students to pursue them for God’s glory.

We may not be there yet, but it is definitely worth aiming for.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment