I sat down last night and watched the documentary "Bully" (2011) for the first time. Needless to say, it was hard to watch. These poor little kids (and big kids, too) who are terrorized and victimized every single day because they are different. My heart was ripped.
I thought of another movie I had watched recently, "Hardball" (2001) about a group of young kids from the projects of Chicago who form a baseball team. At first, the kids are hard to take. Foul mouthed. Full of anger. Lots of posturing. Not your typical cute kids in a Disney movie. But as the movie progresses and more of their individual stories unravel, I fell so in love with these kids. I rooted for them. I cried for them. I felt for them.
It is so hard to see people who are different or difficult and not pass judgement. I fight this everyday. I might see a pack of teenagers on the subway acting all loud and rude. I immediately pass judgement. Or I see someone begging on the street, strung out on drugs. I pass judgement.
When I started to notice this reaction, I invented a little game. The second I want to pass judgement, I instead write the person's story in my head. I imagine the hardships that got them where they are. I write their backstory in my head. I develop their hopes and dreams. I conjure up strengths and weaknesses. I give them fears that they must triumph over.
Bottomline, its a great writing exercise. But it also builds empathy within me.
When we truly know someone, its harder to turn a blind eye or pass judgement. When we understand where someone is coming from, it softens our heart to the things that usually keep us hardened.
That is the beauty of story. Story creates empathy. Story touches the heart.
I know there is a push lately to focus more on non-fiction and informational texts through the Common Core State Standards. The emphasis is on building skills that are necessary for the workforce: sorting, categorizing, comparing, evaluating, analyzing, and reasoning. Less and less emphasis is placed on how a text makes the reader feel. Less focus is placed on texts that might make us better people, not just workers.
If we are not careful, we will eliminate the emotional connection, the story. And therefore, we will no longer be inadvertantly teaching empathy. We may as well teach computers, instead of children.
The fact is, we have a bullying problem in our schools. Yet, fellow Storymakers...listen! You have a place here. Tell the stories. The world needs YOU! The world needs more empathy.