The Merriam –Webster dictionary defines empathy as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Sympathy is defined as the feeling that you care about and feel sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc : a sympathetic feelingIn short: Sympathy is done to someone, empathy is done with someone
I found Dr. Brown`s video beneficial to understanding the benefits of empathy.
Being empathetic, does not mean that you have to agree with everything that someone says, but it means that you try to `put yourself into the shoes of others`.
The benefits of striving towards empathy are:
Staying Out of Judgement
Recognizing Emotions in Another Person
Communicating that Feeling With People
A treasure from this year has been being able to step back from the treadmill of life and being able to experience new things. By opening myself to new experiences I have extended my ability to empathize with others.
Before coming to Japan I might have been described as a very focused woman who was used to taking charge. In Canada I was often passionate about issues that affected me including my children and my career. I tried my best to stay informed and up to date, and took many opportunities to become involved both in my school community and the lives of my children. When you have been a part of something your whole life, you often forget what it is like to be new. You also sometimes forget that all your knowledge, reputation and relationships have taken years to develop.
This year I convinced my family to take a break from our Canadian comfort zone and to go on an adventure. I accepted an overseas teaching position. Although I hoped that we would see new places and try new foods, I never realized how much we would gain from this experience.
Authentic Learning Experiences:
Our choice to spend the year in Japan has taught us many lessons. We have learned everything from the basics of saying good morning “ohayoo goziamasu”, to eating with chopsticks *ohashi, to being able to all carry our own luggage as we navigate Japan by bullet train *Shinkansen.
We also learned a lot about relating to others. For example, its ok to feel sad, lonely or upset, however how you express those feelings can either help or hurt your relationships. In Canada we had enough physical space that if someone was having a bad day, they could go into their own room cool down and feel better. This year, in our apartment, we did not have the luxury of space and so we had to learn new coping strategies for when we were feeling overwhelmed. Helping each other identify our feelings and then talk about why we were feeling that way repaired many ruptured interactions throughout the year.
Finally we learned just how important relationships are. We valued the connection we felt to our family and friends from Canada and enjoyed sharing our stories. It was great to be able to Skype or message people who knew about our past. It was also wonderful to hear their stories. This year thanks to the internet we were able to maintain our Canadian relationships through activities such as watching a friend convocate via streamed video, sharing Olympic triumphs and being able to offer condolences for loss.
We are also grateful for the new relationships we have developed throughout the past year. We are so lucky to have some many wonderful people who have offered assistance. We have made a conscious effort to show our children how to express our gratitude to others through the use of handmade thank you cards, verbal thanks, small gifts *omiyage and offering items that we no longer need, but might be useful to the other person.
How has Japan changed me?
- It has increased the level of empathy I feel towards people who chose to move into a new culture.
- It has increased the respect I feel towards individuals who are multilingual.
- It has helped me identify my core beliefs and values
- It has taught me to slow down before passing judgment, often there are other issues going on behind the scenes that you are not aware of.
- To reflect on what is best for the community, rather than what is best for the individual.
- To appreciate the beauty of each day. Everything has a season, no matter how short. The vegetation here is tremendous. It grows fast and changes often. If you don`t stop today to admire that sakura tree the blooms might be gone tomorrow.
How do I hope Japan will impact me as an educator
When I am working with students new to learning English I will try to reflect back on how it feels to learn Japanese. I can relate to the frustration of trying to find the new word or needing something repeated.
My empathy will also be extended to other ESL families when I return who are trying their best to manage a new school system.