Robert Brooks: Empathy: Turning Feelings and Beliefs into Action

In my workshops and writings I have consistently emphasized the importance of empathy as an essential skill for enriching our lives. In books I have co-authored with my close friend and colleague Dr. Sam Goldstein, such as Raising Resilient Children and The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life, we devote chapters to the concepts of empathy and empathic communication as key ingredients involved in the development of positive relationships and resilience. Psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman has highlighted empathy as an integral component of both “emotional intelligence” and “social intelligence.”


My first two website articles, which were written in February and March, 1999, examined the concept of empathy. The selection of this topic for my inaugural website articles reflected the significance of this concept in my philosophy and approach. I have returned to the theme of empathy on a number of occasions, including my September, 2010 article in which I suggest that if our children are to become empathic, it is essential for the adults in their lives to model empathy rather than just preach about it. I cited an article authored by Maia Szalavitz that was published on the Time website in which she observes, “A child’s capacity for empathy can further be encouraged when parents model empathetic behavior themselves. When parents treat other people with compassion, selflessness, and a lack of judgment, children copy those behaviors.”


Modeling empathy is not mutually exclusive from providing children with exercises that encourage them to consider the feelings of others and to reflect upon the ways in which their actions are experienced by others. Carefully planned exercises, free of lecturing/preaching, can serve as powerful techniques to assist our children to take the perspective of other people and appreciate the world through their eyes. Empathy is not only a crucial dimension of a “resilient mindset,” but I believe it is a vital foundation for such behaviors as compassion and caring…


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