Sunday 4 December 2016

Teaching empathy can help our children to find success in life

Stella O'Malley

Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30

The UNESCO child and family research centre at NUI Galway recommends that we teach children empathy in schools
The UNESCO child and family research centre at NUI Galway recommends that we teach children empathy in schools

Greed is dead. Empathy is in. The opening lines of Frans De Waal's renowned book, 'The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society,' show us the new way of thinking. No longer can we protest that 'It's dog eat dog out there; Darwin made me do it!' Instead, De Waal argues that we have completely overstated the human instinct for selfishness and that most of us are really quite nice.

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From giving to charity to volunteering our time with the local GAA, most people are willing to help others, to be kind and to seek fairness in our lives.  And so the news that the UNESCO child and family research centre at NUI Galway recommends that we teach children empathy in schools has been, on the whole, greeted with satisfaction - albeit with the odd eye-roll as we can't help but think that it's all a long way from our day when empathy hadn't really been created and so we had to struggle with the Tuiseal Ginideach instead.

It is hard for many people to value the soft skills - they are just about willing to accept a degree in psychotherapy but would look cynically upon a diploma in empathy. And yet, without a shadow of a doubt, despite the masses of studying I have done on evidence-based psychological theory, my skill in empathy is the most valuable quality I can offer clients in my work as a psychotherapist. The intense relief a troubled person can feel when they finally meet someone who grasps what it is like to walk in their shoes can have a powerful and lasting impact. However, it's not only psychotherapists who need skills in empathy; it is well documented that empathy is a key predictor of success in many careers and is positively linked to effective job performance.

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