There is a movement going around helping elementary-age students staunch bullying by exploring their own emotional intelligence. It’s called Roots of Empathy, and it’s taught by-- wait for it-- a baby. Baby Naomi helps teach nine and ten-year-olds how to use empathy to relate to others in an effort to stop bullying before it even begins. Along with her mother and Roots of Empathy instructor Kathy, baby Naomi attends class once a month to teach students about vulnerability, relatability, and cultivate a deeper understanding of human emotion.
Kathy, Roots of Empathy instructor, explains what makes their program so effective: “We use a baby as a vehicle to help children find the vulnerability and humanity in this little baby, so that then they can flip it back and apply it to their own experiences.” Kathy says this works because Baby Naomi is so vulnerable, inspiring an unconscious need for students to observe and protect her. “She’s more vulnerable than they are,” Kathy says, “and we have many vulnerable children in our classrooms.” This invites them to work a little harder to understand what hurts or upsets her.
Roots of Empathy doesn’t come right out and tell the students they’re trying to stop bullying by teaching empathy. Instead, they use this experience as a way to develop empathetic and emotionally intelligent humans who are more aware of how to recognize and relate to messy human emotions. “They realize this sudden universe of: everybody in the world feels the same as me; we’re not so disconnected,” Kathy explains. “It’s very hard to hate someone when you realize they feel like you. It’s very hard to be bullying someone if you realize that.”
Roots of Empathy is an organization founded by Mary Gordon with the hopes of helping children learn to verbalize and discuss their feelings. Gordon says, “Our long-term goal is building a more caring, civil, and peaceful society where everybody feels a sense of belonging.”
At CMASAS, our accredited online school encourages students to think globally, welding empathetic learners who think about how their actions affect others. As we enter into an entrepreneurial age where many students will be creating their own futures, having an empathetic mindset is critical for developing lasting business and personal relationships. Understanding another’s “hurt” is also a bedrock for entrepreneurs who create products or companies that have great impact. With an international student body, our students have the opportunity to travel throughout the globe, and experience homeroom with students from all walks of life.
Empathy is not just a tool to combat bullying, but a sign of emotional intelligence. And fortunately, as we’ve seen from Roots of Empathy, it can be taught. Empathetic people are shown to be better leaders, valued workers, and exceptional change-makers. Here at CMASAS, we are committed to teaching the whole child, and applaud the efforts of organizations like Roots of Empathy.