Most people who succeed, do so by accident. By comparison, most people who repeatedly fail in the absence of any debilitating mental or physical health issues, do so by accident. In our individual pursuits to achieve success, most recipes for succeeding are discovered and practiced by accident. In some cases the practice takes place without an awareness and usually without an understanding of why certain methods used in achieving work the way they do.
In a recent post, I wrote about how Central Falls High School of Central Falls Rhodes Island, had taken the radical measure of firing all of their teachers and faculty in response to a significant percentage of re-occurring dismal grades by their student body. Even with the board of trustees' commitment to rehire at least half of their teaching staff in the coming semester, I still estimate that most of their students will continue to struggle and their teaching staff turnover will be higher.
But what about empathy? Can teenagers who are more empathetic intentionally succeed? If so, why? Also, how can students be taught to be empathetic?
The very nature of being empathetic, involves looking past one's own perspective in any given situation and understanding as best as possible the needs and experiences of another person. Teenagers who are empathetic tend to be more purpose driven and they intentionally succeed in their academics not because they are looking to make good grades, but in most subjects their goal is to understand the subject material and to utilize the knowledge as one of their ever increasing tools.
Teenagers who struggle with being empathetic, tend to be more self absorbed and less caring towards others, and ironically themselves. As a result their pursuits in any part of their lives, tend to be based mostly on what they can only receive in return. Most notably, acceptance and recognition. Take for instance academia, teenagers who succeed in this area, commonly do so on accident out of a strong desire for the acceptance and recognition that will typically come from parents and elder relatives. I use the term "on accident" because while success in academia is measured by good grades, it doesn't necessarily reflect that one has learned how to use information learned in real life situations. (Memorization doesn't necessarily equate to understanding.) On the other hand, most students who fail in academia, commonly do so on accident because of a fear of failure, in the case the use of the term "on accident" refers to the teen being so preoccupied with losing face, that it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. As a therapist, I work with teenagers who have dug so deep a hole for themselves with putting no effort that they resort to being rebellious towards their parents and authority. Rae Pica recently hosted a segment on BAM radio network that addresses a growing epidemic about children who are terrified of failing.
Teenagers who are more empathetic do a much better job in embracing failure, because there is little ego involved in their tasks, and setbacks while disappointing are rarely seen as a failures, but rather as a learning experience about an approach that does not work for the task at hand.
The process of teaching or guiding teenagers towards being more empathetic, is a two fold and creative process. The first portion of the process is to help students recognize and understand the continuum of how their seemingly ordinary everyday behaviors influence others near and far. The second portion is to help teenagers recognize their ability to become empowered to help themselves and others. As for techniques, that is a creative process entirely up to parents, guardians, clinicians and educators.