It Happened Here: Learning and Practicing Empathy

October 24, 2019 | Teen Blogger

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Malvern empathy bins
Empathy bins from an exercise at Malvern Branch's Learning and Practicing Empathy program.

Youth Advisory Group volunteers from Malvern Branch recently attended a program for teens called Learning and Practicing Empathy. Here's their recap:

What Happened?

At the program, the youth were invited to learn and practice empathy. We reviewed the definition of empathy, which is understanding other’s experiences and emotions. We also played a game based off of what we learned where we reviewed a situation and threw a ball into the bin with the label that we thought best applied to it. What followed was a discussion of our thoughts and opinions. Three of the bins were labelled with “empathy traps”; problem-solving, even worse, and look at the bright side. These are traps people often fall into while attempting to show empathy.

What did you learn?

As the name of the program suggests, I learned a lot about empathy. I learned that empathy is often confused with sympathy, a reaction to someone’s experiences or emotions rather than understanding them.

I have also been taught that listening is important in showing empathy as your understanding of a subject depends on the amount of information you know. To show a person you are listening, remain eye contact and limit distractions. Refrain from interrupting people when they are speaking as you want them to reveal as much detail as they prefer. When the person you are communicating with has stopped talking but displays the urge to continue, it would be best to encourage them to do so.

Also, I learned that there are three traps that many often fall into when attempting to appear empathetic. One of these traps is solving the problem. Sometimes, offering solutions is beneficial when someone asks for assistance. However, the solution may not always be effective as you must consider a person’s experiences, emotions, interests and resources to find the best one for them. Another trap is comparing a person’s problem to another problem that you believe has a more negative impact. It may seem supportive to tell someone that their problem is not as severe as they interpret it to be. However, it belittles them by suggesting that they are weak. Everyone has different experiences, which is why problems may impact some more than others. The final empathy trap is telling an individual to look at the positive aspects of a situation. It may seem right to look at the glass half-full. However, it is more empathetic to assist the person through their problem rather than suggesting they avoid the negative aspects.

What was the most interesting/memorable part?

I found the game to be the most interesting part of the program as it helped us to practice the new lessons we learned. It was also challenging to throw the balls into the bins.

Do you have any suggestions to make this program better?

Overall, the program was well done with nicely paced lessons and an immersive activity. I suggest that an improvement could be to further explain the significance of these lessons and how they apply to our daily lives.

Was there anything funny that happened?

There were moments throughout the game where our shots would completely miss, hit the rim of a basket, or land perfectly. I found it ludicrous when I would miss my shots as the openings to the bins were quite large.

Would you recommend this program to a friend? Why?

I would recommend this program to others as empathy is an important trait in developing and enhancing relationships. You have a better chance of learning more about someone by understanding their experiences and emotions. Also, empathy is critical in showing kindness to others and learning enough to help them effectively. It is also important to be aware of the empathy traps since they interfere with your good intentions.

Learn about upcoming programs for teens in your neighbourhood, or about volunteering with a Youth Advisory Group.