2011 was a big year for empathy. Rats became the first non-primate to demonstrate pro-social behavior, forgoing treats in order to help their brethren in distress. Scientists uncovered what some are calling the empathy gene, a receptor for the brain chemical oxytocin, and which strangers can detect based solely on observing behavior. It was held up as a critical component of training doctors and MBAs, and touted as the defining force in everything from growing the economy, to surviving middle school, to combating the gridlock plaguing today’s public discourse.
But best of all were stories of students from across the country and around the world who are putting empathy into action, refusing to wait for adults to fix the problems that so often leave us paralyzed, and calling on all of us to make way for a new kind of teaching and learning. If — as Roots of Empathy Founder Mary Gordon says — empathy is something that’s caught not taught, we believe these tales of empathy in action are the sign of much more to come.
Here are three of our favorites.