Social distancing has become the new norm in the entire planet and its effectiveness is measured by the ability of each individual to care for others. The virus, hits harder seniors and people with pre-conditions but a healthy person could easily be infected as well without knowing it. For this reason, the message is that everyone should maintain distance even if you don’t have symptoms but it seems like some people are having a difficult time putting themselves in the shoes of those at risk. Why is that?
Today’s global pandemic crisis has shown the importance of empathy and compassion in any given culture for the survival of our species. Empathy is defined as the ability to understands the emotion of another person while being aware of the causes, while Compassion means genuinely wanting to alleviate someone’s suffering. As you can see these two terms are closely related to each other and should be essential in any in society and any of its systems. Especially in the health system, where caring for others should be the top priority, studies have shown the decrease of empathy and compassion among health workers through the span of their careers. One study shows how the level of empathy in nurses starts decreasing at the very beginning of education, a long time before they start actually working in the field(Chao 2020). In other work fields the positive impact of empathy and compassion are clearly seen across the work environment and have proven to increase feelings of gratitude and reduced anxiety among coworkers. (Liliu et al 2008). It seems like compassion and empathy promote collectives’ positive outcomes in any system they are present. (Dutton 2006). Especially in education, empathy and compassion seem to be virtues of the system. According to Alberta Education empathy is part of the Teaching Standard Quality any teacher should exhibit at any time but there seems to be no mandatory programs that foster the terms (Alberta Education 2020). According to Bridget Cooper in his book Empathy in Education, empathy plays a role in learning through all levels of education, and it is crucial for motivation and the development of values. Cooper further discusses how the [education] system preaches personalized learning and the promotion of good citizenship but are still advocating an intensive, rigid curriculum, in large, one size fits all, classes suggesting that there is a lack of empathy from the whole system itself (Cooper 2011).
Its pretty clear that there are many benefits of empathy and compassion but even then we have to be very careful with the way these terms are taught and introduced in education. Character education, a form of education that claims to promote virtues like morality and ethics, has been the focus of some studies on conformity where in some curriculum they use the word empathy to, in a way, control and manipulate children’s and behavior (Leming 1993). In other areas where specifically empathy seems to be against principle is in psychoanalysis. It has been point out that an analyst may not be able to remain empathic toward her client and authentic to herself, resulting in conflict at the moment of analysis (Orange 2002).
Aside from these apparently minimal drawbacks, Empathy and Compassion have proven to be of monumental value not only for the development and advancement of our civilizations as humans but also for the survival of our species.
Chao, Y. Zhu, (2020) The Effect of structure empathy education on empathy competence of undergraduate nursing interns. Nurse Education Today, 85.
J.M. Lilius, (2008) The Contours and consequences of compassion at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, pp 193-200
G.Dutton, (2008). Increase commitment to a vision.Giving commitment: Employee supports programs and the prosocial sensemaking process. Academy of Management Journal, 51 pp 898-918
J.S. Leming(1993) In Search of effective Character Education. Educational Leadership 51 (3) pp 63-71
D.Orange (2002) There is no outside: Empathy and Authenticity in psychoanalytic process. Psychoanalytic Psychology 19(4) pp 686-700