About a month ago, I received a text at work from my 12 year old daughter. She was at school and told me about an awful tragedy she heard about at school. Something happened in our town the night before and she wanted me to find out information. She explained that this affected the life of a boy in her grade. She continued to send me texts throughout the day, trying to make sense of what had happened. I gathered the facts of this awful event and tried to make sense of it myself. I didn't see her until after 9 that night because of her crazy dance schedule. She walked into my room, crawled in my lap, shaking. Literally shaken to her core. Then she started crying "Why, mommy? Why? What about Sean (name changed for ambiguity)? What is going to happen to him? I feel so bad. Why did this happen?". I unfortunately didn't have those answers.
What I didn't know, was that this boy Sean, was a good friend of hers (although I know her reaction would have been the same if he had been a stranger). Her heart was literally broken for this boy. This is her first heart break of many to come. Here is what amazed me. My daughter, had called this boy, from school upon hearing the news. She did not hesitate to show up for her friend. She did not think twice about reaching out to make sure he was ok and see what she could do to help. I don't know if I could have done the same. Sometimes when struck with a tragedy, something that doesn't make sense, we retreat. We worry about doing the right thing, she did not...she just worried about him. She did what I don't think I would be brave enough to do. She taught me something in that moment. She taught me that you just do. You don't think, you follow your heart because your heart knows what's right. My daughter is pure empathy. I know this about her, and I love this about her. I also worry for her, because I know when your heart is that open, it is wide open for hurt.
I have been called a "Pollyanna" most of my life. And when I have been called this, I don't think it was meant to be a good thing. But, to me, it is. I would rather be a "Pollyanna" than a "Grinch". In the instances when I have been called this, it was because I have tried to look at a different side of things. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of others and see things through their eyes. I don't think this is a negative trait. This is what I call: empathy. I don't pretend that life is full of unicorns and rainbows, I'm not naive, but what I do is I tend to give the benefit of the doubt. I try to make sense of things, understand where people are coming from.
I think this is very important when in any leadership role. And like I've said before, we are ALL leaders. A leader is not defined by a title, but our actions. And since we are ALL leaders, someone is always watching and learning from us. What do we want them to see? What do we want them to learn? For me, I want others to learn to be empathetic. I want others to not judge and to see things through other people's lenses before taking action (if action is needed). I think that this trait can only help one as a leader. This is when emotional quotient (EQ) comes into play. I think it would be very difficult to be an effective leader without a high EQ. You need to be able to appeal and understand others, in order to lead and effect change. Leadership is not a party of one, but a party of many. Most likely, this party will be filled with many different personalities, ideas and views. Embrace that.
This quote is one that I keep foremost in my mind whenever I am talking to someone and I can read between the lines: "Everyone is fighting a battle that we don't know about.". What usually happens, at least to me, someone will share their opinion, idea, emotion with me and then they share the REAL stuff. I can tell they are at the tipping point and it usually comes out. It is hardly ever about the "stuff", but what's behind the stuff. At this point, I feel my role is to be that ear, that shoulder, that empathetic heart. That is where that connection is built and that understanding occurs. If this makes me Pollyanna, so be it.
We will come across people that have different views, ideas, agendas other than our own. Do we just shut them down and dismiss them? I think not. I think it is important to listen and honor where other people are coming from. In doing this, we build trust and respect for each other. This is important to instill in our own children as well as our students. We need to teach them to think beyond themselves. We need to teach them how to disagree, but be kind. We need to model how to understand but not judge others.
Empathy doesn't mean that you are blind to the negative, it means you take the time to understand. For me, this is time well spent. Show kindness and empathy to someone today, we all need it.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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