Empathy

There are thousands of beautiful works of art in the world, but this by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov was, for me, a visual representation of empathy long before I knew the story behind the piece.  Milov later wrote: “It demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature”. In other words, even in the darkest of times our inner selves reach for connection and reconnection.

As individuals we have a diverse and complex range of relationships with others, I am many things to different people, a wife, a work colleague, a friend, a child, an employee, a parent, a teacher, a delivery driver and as such I connect with others in a variety of ways and my needs and those of others whom I’m in relationship with varies depending on the nature of our relationship.  The important common thread that runs through our relationships, in order to connect and reconnect, is to recognise that although we might have a shared experience we may be feeling differently about the event and that these feelings might be influenced by our other roles. To use a recent analogy, we are not all in the same boat battling the COVID-19 storm.   

Now, more than ever before, we should seek to respond to unusual, unexpected or unauthorised behaviour with empathy.  Before we judge and blame, we should first seek to understand and help others understand the cause of such behaviours as it is empathy not blame that enables each of us to take responsibility for our actions and to become reconnected with our community.  As Marshall Rosenberg reminds us, “every violent action is a tragic expression of unmet need”, responding with blame rather than understanding and empathy only deepens divisions in relationships at a time when we are craving human connection.  

So, this week – how can you respond with empathy to situations and behaviours that seem beyond belief?  How can you feed our inner desire to connect?

How are you going to model an empathy to parents, colleagues and children as they return to school? One school in Arnhem in the Netherlands had bubbles on the first day back at school to ease the anxiety of the children. What will your bubbles be?

Published by gailwaite

Gail is a professionally qualified youth worker and Restorative Practice trainer and practitioner. She has always been passionate about working with young people and families to help them achieve positive outcomes and has a firm belief in never giving up on a young person. She has worked intensively with vulnerable and challenging young people for over 20 years in various capacities. In the last 13 years Gail developed an additional passion for working restoratively and believes this way of working develops stronger, more positive relationships and enables those involved to have their needs met. Her first hand experience of working restoratively and training others began in Surrey 13 years ago when she worked for the Youth Justice Service. During her 6 years at Surrey County Council Gail was one of two Restorative Practice Team managers responsible for the development and delivery of their restorative training programme to all Youth Justice Staff, Residential Care staff, teachers and Youth workers. In addition Gail was responsible for developing restorative practice within Surrey’s looked after children residential and fostering settings as well as carrying out restorative meetings and interventions with young people and victims of crime. In 2013 Gail developed a module on Restorative Practice for Brunel University in West London as part of their BA hons. Education programme which has now been running successfully for 7 years. This module enables students starting out on their journey working with children, young people and families to understand the principles and practice that underpin restorative work and she believes, become more effective practitioners. The module brings together recognised theories and research alongside the practical skills required to work in this way. More recently Gail has joined RJWorking delivering restorative practice training to school and college staff across Cornwall.

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