I can teach my children to read, if I read to them and we practice. I can teach my children to add, if I add with them and we practice. I can teach my children to ride a bike, if I ride with them and we practice. These things are all true.
How do I teach empathy? How do I know that they have truly learned the meaning of the word?
I have read Dr. Seuss’ famous (soon to be motion picture) book The Lorax to my daughters before. Many times, actually. It is the quintessential cautionary tale about the pitfalls of greed, overconsumption and reckless “biggering.”
I picked up The Lorax again this week and read it to my youngest daughter. I had planned on reading it and then launching into a grande mural art piece with her. However, something happened as we read the book. My daughter began to cry. As the Lorax warned the Once-ler of how he was hurting the birds, the bears and the fish…she cried.
My daughter felt the sadness that filled those animals’ hearts. She understood the true impact of the chopping of the last Truffula tree. As the Lorax left behind the unrecognizable landscape, my daughter felt empathy for those who remained to live in that destruction.
It was beautiful. As a social service worker I sat through many classes and workshops where the instructors emphasized the importance of having empathy. But, I always felt that this was something that couldn’t really be taught. You either get it – or you don’t. As I sat on the couch with my daughter I realized that, she got it.
No crafty follow-up to underline the message of the book. She understands it very well.
Sometimes I sit in awe at the power of books.