Home' Teacher : August 2011 Contents 20 teacher august 2011
in increasing autonomy. A nu mber of child
developme nt psychologists now a rgue the
contrary – that a sense of selfhood and self-
awareness depends on a nd feeds off deepen-
ing relationships to other people.
empathy: the research
Empathy is the means by which compan-
ionate bonds are forged. Were seeking
companionship not so basic to our nature,
we wouldn’t so fear isolation or ostracism.
Facebook would not be such a flourishing
To be shunned and exiled is to become
a nonperson, to cease to exist as far as oth-
ers are concerned. E mpathy is the psycho-
logical means by which we become part of
other people’s lives and share meani ngful
experiences. I ndeed, the very notion of tra n-
scendence means to reach beyond oneself, to
participate with and belong to larger com-
mu nities, to be embedded in more complex
webs of mea ning.
What drives our need to empathise,
neurophysiologists now believe, is the mir-
ror neu ron system. Valeria Gazzola, Lisa
Aziz-Zadeh and Christian Keysers have
shown that people who are more empathic
according to self-report questionnaires have
stronger activations in the mirror system
for hand actions a nd the mi rror system for
emotions. What the research mea ns is that
empathy, or its opposite, is a deliberate and
learned, a nd therefore practised, response.
Where, then , ought we to teach empathy?
In our schools.
A new model for teaching and
New teaching models designed to trans -
form education f rom a competitive contest
to a more collaborative learni ng experience
are eme rging as schools attempt to catch
up to a generation that has grown up on
the internet, and is used to interacting and
learning in open social networks where they
share information rather than horde it.
The initiatives in positive education,
meditation and pastoral care at Geelong
Grammar School aim to nurture indi-
viduals as they grow to adulthood. The
traditional assumption that ‘knowledge is
power’ and that it’s used for personal gain
is being replaced by the notion that knowl-
edge is an expression of shared responsibil-
ities for the collective wellbeing of human-
ity, the ‘we’ rather than the ‘I.’ Empathy
provides the path from ‘I ’ to ‘we,’ and leads
to less ‘I’ self-destruction and more shar-
ing and cari ng, f rom i ndependence to inter-
The positive education initiatives at
Geelong Grammar School are informed
by the understand that the wellbeing of
students is essential to learning and life
ma nagement. E mpathy promotes the under-
standing of others and the development of
more positive relationships.
Early evaluation and observation of
student performance has shown marked
improvements in mindfulness, communi-
cation skills and critical thinking as stu-
dents become more reflective, emotionally
attuned, and cognitively adept at compre-
hending and responding intelligently and
compassionately to others.
A kinder approach to living is appearing.
A kinder approach to mistake ma nage-
ment being implemented through ‘relation-
ship reparation’ is advancing a more positive
outcome from the inevitable mistakes the
Relationships are constructed on the
cont ribution one ca n make to another, not
on what advantage one ca n gain from the
The empathic strength of forgiveness
deserves special attention. As Desmond
Tutu has stated, ‘Forgiveness gives us the
capacity to make a new start.... And for-
giveness is the grace by which you enable
the other person to get up, and get up with
dignity, to begin anew.... In the act of for-
giveness we are declaring our faith in the
future of a relationship and in the capacity
of the wrongdoer to change.’
Forgiveness renews life by finishing
unfi nished business . Even a n unsuccessful
attempt at forgiveness has the considerable
power of intention. We cannot force for-
giveness , but we can explore its possibili-
ties, its capacity to heal the forgiver, and
sometimes the forgiven . To forgive, one has
to purge oneself of revenge and the desire
to harm. One must forgive oneself for the
emotional response in order to then have
the capacity to forgive the other. While this
is simple once one practises it, it’s tough
going at first.
Forgiveness is not transactional, it’s
transformational. It doesn’t remove what
has happened, but it does remove the
destructiveness of the impact of what has
happened for all parties, enabling those par-
ties to ‘move on.’
As educators, we are obliged to take
the initiative. The soldiers in Flanders on
Christmas Eve 1914 did just that. T
John Hendry is Director of Student
Welfare at Geelong Grammar School.
Gazzola, V., Aziz-Zadeh, L . & Keysers,
C. (2006). Empathy and the somato-
topic auditory mirror system in humans.
Current Biology. 16: 1,824-29.
Harlow, H.F., Dodsworth, R.O. &
Harlow, M .K. (1965) Total social isola-
tion in monkeys. Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences of the
United States of America. 54: 90-97.
Mason, W.A . Early social deprivation in
the nonhuman primates: Implications for
human behavior. (1968). In D.C . Glass
(ed.) Environmental Influences. New
York: Rockefeller University & Russell
Sage Foundation. 70-101.
Spitz, R.A. (1945). Hospitalism. In
R.S . Eissler (ed.) The Psychoanalytic
Study of the Child (Vol. I). New York:
International Universities Press.
Spitz, R.A. (1946). Hospitalism: A
follow-up report. In R.S . Eissler (ed.) The
Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (Vol.
II). New York: International Universities
Tutu, D. & Abrams, D. (2004). God Has
A Dream: A vision of hope for our time.
New York: Doubleday.
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