Empathy: the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Published on: 07 June 2020
Empathy is a vital human force. One that creates happier children, stronger communities and a better world. It’s all about being able to imagine and share someone else’s feelings. To mark Empathy Day on 9 June, Sita Brahmachari has written an exclusive blog for BookTrust.
Sita Brahmachari and her Worry Angel. Photo: Martin Levenson
On 9 June, families, schools, libraries and authors across the country will be celebrating Empathy Day. Not-for-profit EmpathyLab are hosting a day of online author events and activities, focusing on how we can use books to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world through different eyes. You can join in here.
Every day is an opportunity to grow our capacity to be empathetic humans. But this focus of Empathy Day 2020 seems vital in these times for carers, parents, teachers, librarians and those who work with children and young people searching for ways to explore our world in ways which nourish young people.
Far from shielding young readers from some of the toughest problems we face today, a focus on empathy leads us to explore the anxieties and worries we all share about our planet through fiction and non- fiction about animals, humans and mythical beings. The scientific research shows that reading is one of the most powerful ways in which to learn to grow into empathetic human beings… and it’s a life-long learning journey. One that inspires me both as a reader and as a writer.
Up and down this land the youngest child who has painted a rainbow or placed their favourite teddy bears in their windows understands that deeply empathising with a situation can lead to actions to offer help and support. Children and families have been doing this each week in going out to clap to support the NHS and Key Workers at this time of Global Pandemic. This communal action is a potent example of the power of putting empathy into action.
The hideous racist killing of George Floyd has instigated protests and outrage the world over. But how do we start to articulate the complexity of racism with young people? How do we answer their questions? Stories can offer us a powerful, empathetic pathway. Empathy is so much more than sympathising with another human being, it leads us to look within ourselves and to contribute to making a change.
When we writers talk to young readers about books, a frequently asked question is - what’s the most important skill you need to become a writer?
I answer by throwing a few ‘Have-you-ever read... ’ questions back!
Why not take a few minutes now to discuss these? You’ll already be using important empathy growing skills - Listening and the power to share your feelings, emotional responses and ideas with others.
Have you ever read a book that….
- Made you laugh or cry/ feel happy, sad or troubled?
- Cared so much for characters in a story, or loved being part of their world so much that you don’t want the story ever to end?
- Heard someone telling you a story that you’ll never forget?
- Forgotten who you are and felt like you've become another character?
- Flown to the landscapes of your story?
- made you feel so strongly that it prompted a change in you or the world around you?
I have and I’m guessing you have too. It’s a fact that as we identify with and explore characters and their feelings, we expand our own empathy skills. But, like many authors and artists I see empathy as so much more than a skill. I believe empathy to be the most important colour in my author and reader palette. It’s the most underrated superpower in the world because it can transform your own and other people’s perceptions and lives in small and large ways. Because feeling and experiencing empathy for another being in a story can propel you into action in real life.
Empathy Lab has brought many wonderful writers, psychologists, librarians and educators together on this much needed World Empathy Day to invite everyone to join us in an Empathy Adventure full of fun and thought provoking activities for all ages.
At the end of the day I’ll be running a session with wonderful fellow author and activist Onjali Rauf. We will be asking you to make an empathy day resolution to place in your window inspired by a story you have read or something that concerns you in the world today - the resolution is a declaration to act to make a change in yourself, family, community or the wider world.
I am so happy to share with you an Empathy Day activity that the wonderful illustrator Jane Ray and I have created together from our novella Worry Angels. The story is of a meeting in a home school family centre (much like the refugee centre we run an art and writing class together in). In Grace’s art house children and their families form cross-cultural and inter-generational friendships through harnessing the superpower of empathy. They are helped by their home school teacher Grace who makes everyone a ‘Worry Angel’ to carry with them through life to let them know that they are never alone and that someone is always looking out for them.
Onjali, Jane and and I have been humbled by how young readers have responded to our stories with resolutions that include: baking cakes for the refugee centre, raising funds, cutting long hair to create wigs for children with cancer, to writing letters of concern and protest to the queen and the Prime Minister, banner making, sending books to refugee camps around the world, and supporting Food Banks to name but a few actions that have come from empathising with characters in stories.
Onjali and I will be revealing our own empathy resolutions at the end of the day and we’re looking forward to seeing yours. But whatever your Empathy Day Resolutions, why not make your own World Empathy Day Angel and decide who you would like to send it to? Perhaps someone in your own family or a neighbour or loved one you have not been able to see for a while. We love to think of these empathetic angels flying around the country giving joy at this time and can’t wait to see them hanging beside your resolutions and rainbows… in my mind empathy is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it is to be found in the treasure trove that is yours to discover throughout your life, in reading and writing stories...
Here’s how to make your own Empathy Day angels…. And a wing to make your own resolution poster from!
Try making your own Empathy Day Worry Resolution on the wing and Worry Angel!
Use these templates or as a guide to make your own...
The ‘Worry Angels’ activity for Empathy Day was commissioned from Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray by Sheffield Libraries.
Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari
Looking for something fun as a family? Enjoy storytime with our free online books and videos, play games, win prizes, test your knowledge in our book-themed quizzes, or even learn how to draw some of your favourite characters.