Lesson in Caring: How Empathy Leads to Change

What is your natural response when you witness devastation and people hurting? If you are like most people, you genuinely want to help, but you do not know how. Deep down inside, if we are being honest, it is likely most people would agree that they feel less connected to the devastation when it does not directly hurt or affect them. That is natural and part of our human nature.

However, it is important for us all to pause our lives and take a moment to step into another person’s shoes and clothe ourselves in empathy to connect to those who are hurting. Harvard’s Making Care Common Project says this about empathy: “Empathy is a concerned response to another person’s feelings. It involves thinking, feeling, and even a physical reaction that our bodies have to other people when we relate to how they feel. To have empathy, we have to notice and understand others’ feelings, but that is not enough. We also need to care about and value them.”

This is exactly what my Integrative Authentic School Care Strategy emphasizes. I am happy to report that Lima entral Catholic School is the first school to implement my newly developed strategy. We kicked off the implementation process by having the LCCS educators[1] complete a survey analyzing the level of care that the school offers for staff and students alike. Their responses are being analyzed. After completing the survey, the educators were given a copy of my book, Inspiration in My Shoes, along with a workbook to read.

The day before I was scheduled to speak to the educators, a few of them were nervous and confused and expressed their views with the principal. They felt my story was devastating and depressing and they wondered why their principal would bring this to Lima, and they wondered what they were supposed to do with it, even though my story provides a beacon of hope to those that are lost and hurting.

The principal called me in a bit of a subtle panic, hoping that I would understand their concern and also to affirm her original intentions for bringing my story to Lima. I shared this with her: “That’s to be expected. You want a school that deeply cares for others and their students. I applaud you for bringing my story to their attention so that they can realize how to respond to those that are not like them.” She mentioned after our conversation that she felt assured that she made the right decision, and onward I went to speak to the educators.

I arrived at the school with much excitement, and minutes before I was to present to the educators, I heard the clerk announce over the loud speaker, “If everyone can stop what you are doing, it’s time for our closing day announcements.” I grabbed a towel to dry my hands in the restroom, stopped and listened. This is what she read:

“Right now, the news paints a gloomy picture and it’s easy to become fixated on stories of devastation and wonder, What can I do? Recently, Pope Francis gave a talk where he shared thoughts that might help [Listen to Pope Francis' TED talk here].

He asks that we view the future positively. He outlines where he believes we’re going wrong and offers a message of hope for everyone who genuinely cares about the world.

Pope Francis believes that our problems stem from the fact that we’ve become separated from each other, mistrustful of those who are different from us, and too focused on our individual lives.

And so, when asked what the Christian response should be to the world today, the Pope offered a challenge. When we stand in solidarity with others, we have the power to change the future. Pope Francis further tells us that this future has a name, and its name is Hope.

Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is a virtue of the heart that doesn’t focus on the past, and isn’t simply about getting by in the present.

Maybe we can’t change great world events like a terrorist incident or a hurricane flooding, but there are small steps we can take to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering.”

After hearing the announcements, I was blown away. I just looked up, pointed to the sky, and I said, “You, God, are always on time and relevant. Thank you for Pope Francis’ words.” Pope Francis summed up my Integrative Authentic School Care Strategy. I asked the principal for a copy of his remarks and started my talk to the educators by repeating Pope Francis’ words. I was on fire and ready to deliver my message of hope and encouragement.

Let us just say that by the end of my talk, the educators were smiling in affirmation and the school principal was filled with gratitude, joy, and an assuredness that we are heading down the right path. In fact, the principal asked if my family would consider continuing my brother’s character scholarship at LCCS in an effort to keep his legacy alive and to continue what we started. We started the character scholarship in 1995 after my brother committed suicide as a means to honor a graduating, higher education bound senior for standing up and showing empathy and caring for others who are not like them. I gave the last character scholarship at St. Wendelin High School in Fostoria, Ohio after it closed down this past May.

I am sharing this story with you to express my excitement surrounding my Integrative Authentic School Care Strategy, and in the hope that we all can continue to display empathy and care for others, and to share how God blesses us and gives us all the right words to say at just the right moment.

Inspiration can come to you anywhere, even in the restroom!

[1] An educator is an individual who is employed by or who is contracted through Lima Central Catholic High School and helps students grow and learn by listening, interacting, and engaging in critical conversations with students (includes, but is not limited to, teachers, school counselors, school bus drivers, lunch room attendants, janitors, principal, board members, parking lot attendants or school greeters).

Diana Patton is a Speaker, Social Justice and Integrative Health Advocacy Coach, Author and Attorney. Learn more about her by visiting her website. Click here to read a free chapter of her book, Inspiration in My Shoes, or read more of her articles, here. Interested in having Diana speak to your organization? Listen to this 30 minute video and contact her.

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