WHAT IS EMPATHY?
Empathy, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, is one of the most important skills for students to learn as they prepare for life and work in this globalized, 21st century world of ours. It is crucial that students be equipped with an ability to perceive and appreciate personal and cultural differences across humankind.
If students fail to understand what motivates others, they fail to understand just how alike we all are in our motivations. This is a serious problem: one that breeds selfishness, promotes complacency and violence, one that inhibits bridges of understanding from being built across divisions of race, culture, and class—bridges that ultimately lead to positive social change.
Homa Tavangar, award-winning author of Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World, explains that in addition to preparing students to achieve competitive test scores, they must be taught to empathize with others if they hope to succeed in our ever more connected world. She calls empathy “an essential, active skill . . . foundational to embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective, conducting richer and deeper analysis, and communicating more effectively.”
There are numerous obstacles to empathy in modern life. Partly to blame is the extraordinary pace at which information today is consumed. “The quicker we know, the less we care and the less humane we become," writes John Naish for The Times (2009). With near-instant access to global events and trending topics as delivered through Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat and Vine, attention spans have been maxed out—and with them, the ability to imagine ourselves in the shoes of others. Those with empathy deficits are those at risk for failure in a globalizing economy that more than ever demands broad, open-minded citizens.
Empathy is a crucial skill, and with the art of playwriting as taught through EPIC, we are giving Chicago’s students a leg up in preparing to work in this increasingly globalized, 21st century world.