Our goal should be to not only help children take others’ viewpoints but to value diverse perspectives and people. How do we expand children’s circle of empathy and concern?
Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s not only a foundation for ethical functioning and professional success but for good relationships of many kinds and for loving well. Yet it’s also vital to understand what true empathy is. There’s far more to empathy than simply understanding another person’s point of view. After all, con men and torturers are highly skilled at understanding others’ perspectives — so they can bore in on their victims’ weaknesses. Siblings can have hawk-like skills at spotting and preying on each other’s most shameful vulnerabilities and fears. Salespeople, politicians, actors and marketers are often very deft at taking other perspectives but they may not care any more about other people than the rest of us.
Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education