Friday, July 17, 2009
Empathy is the seed of compassion, the one emotion that I want to imbue on my 5-year old son. I believe that with empathy towards himself and others that he will grow to be a more caring and loving individual; every parent's dream. All that is fine and good, but how do you teach a 5-year old empathy, especially when they're so ego-centric? This is my koan. My wife pointed out that both my son and I can learn empathy together, since we're both equally lacking. It's always reassuring to find out that your spouse thinks you have the emotional maturity of a 5-year old, but that's another subject in it's own right.
The best teacher is experience. Children learn by observing and doing, which means that he must observe empathy before he can practice it. We try hard help him identify his own feelings at any given time, and ask him if he can guess how others feel. "What about the bug that you just squished?" Right now it all comes down to physical discomfort, which is easier for a 5-year old to identify with, everything is black and white. Later we hope that he can identify emotional suffering in both himself and others, and truly associate his feelings' sort of the First Noble Truth for 5-year olds.