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The Enduring Value of Empathy

Empathy may be a noun in the dictionary, but to Michele Borba, Ed.D., it is a verb. And not only is it a word of action, it is an indicator of success. The practice of empathy helps children succeed in their current circumstances and later in life, having developed a wider perspective, greater resiliency and deeper moral courage.

Dr. Borba visited Sacred Heart at the end of April as part of the Parent Ed series and, downtown and on campus, spoke to parents, faculty and a wider listening audience via podcast. What became quickly apparent is how resonant Sacred Heart's Goals and Criteria are with Dr. Borba's work, which empowers children to be well-rounded with a highly functioning moral compass.

An acclaimed speaker, educator and author of several books including the recent "End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy" and "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World," Dr. Borba is passionate about the need to encourage empathy in children. The reasons are many, ranging from increased fulfillment and success for the child and, more broadly, a positive impact for the culture. Of growing concern, Dr. Borba relates, is that while many of today's children are demonstrably smarter, they are experiencing an increase in anxiety and a lack of coping skills. Of equal concern is the 40 percent decline in the practice of empathy compared to 30 years ago as research from more than 70 studies has shown.

"Children are actually hard-wired to care," says Dr. Borba. But adults need to cultivate that impulse, which often means giving children permission to care or showing them how to care. With the use of technology on the rise, children may be plugged in for as much as seven hours a day; this phenomenon applies to adults, too. The live connection between human beings is suffering, highlighting a need to reclaim face-to-face conversation and value emotional literacy for the strength that it is.

In her book "UnSelfie," Dr. Borba provides educators and parents a list of 10 habits that "give kids the empathy advantage." The habits center on: Emotional Literacy; Moral Identity; Perspective Taking; Moral Imagination; Self-Regulation; Practicing Kindness; Collaboration and Teamwork; Moral Courage; and Altruistic Leadership. The book offers parents and educators a wealth of tools that can be used to nourish the practice of empathy, at home and at school. Importantly, the practice of empathy is not all about developing one's "warm and fuzzy side." It is about giving children the tools they need to experience their own strength of character and ability to cope, as well as to exercise compassion, toward themselves and their neighbor.

The importance of empathy is being felt globally, and Dr. Borba has spoken around the world on the topic. Is it too much to consider empathy an essential trait for the future of humankind? Not according to Dr. Borba. "Empathy will keep humanity going," she says with conviction.

To access Dr. Borba's recent podcast at SHS, click here.