According to Daniel Goleman, author of “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence,” empathy is the single most important tool in social interaction – especially leadership. Yet, for all it’s importance, empathy is often lacking in everyday life, and as Goleman points out, often overlooked.
For this reason, a few organizations have sprung up that focus solely on teaching and building empathy. One such organization is the Humane Society. This organization has developed what they call the Empathy Connection: Creating Caring Communities Through The Human-Animal Relationship.
Here is an excerpt from their website:
Research demonstrates very tangible benefits to children who form bonds with animals:
Some Warning Signs:
Parents should get involved if they see—or hear about—their child behaving inappropriately with an animal. What is inappropriate behavior? Below are some warning signs for parents.
Tips to Build Empathy:
Like any other skill—riding a bike, learning to write, or playing the piano—empathy can be developed. We are born with the potential to be empathetic. Experts on empathy agree that encouraging the expression of empathy requires four things:
For example, Frank is six years old. When his two-year-old sister was cranky after awakening from her nap, and the usual things did not cheer her up, he understood why she remained unhappy. Frank, his mother and father were drinking pink lemonade. Since they had run out of pink lemonade, Frank’s mother offered his sister yellow lemonade, which she refused.
Frank realized she wanted the pink lemonade, like everybody else, and he offered his sister his pink lemonade. She accepted it with a smile. Frank was able to put himself in his sister’s place. Doing that enabled him to solve the problem of his sister’s crankiness.
Children who see their parents, teachers, older siblings, and classmates being kind, and acting kindly toward them, are more likely to act that way themselves.
Specialists also agree that children will not necessarily change their behavior simply because they were exposed to information or talked about an issue with their parents. Children need to learn specific, concrete skills in order to change their behavior—whether that change is becoming less aggressive or making better interpersonal choices.
The evidence is clear: Children exposed to empathy training score higher on measures of empathy and sociability than children without the skill training.
So while Goleman notes the importance of empathy, the Humane Society employs the use of animals, both dogs and horses, to teach it directly to children.
Empathy is something that we can learn at any age, and for many, something that is greatly assisted through the help of a horse.
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Last reviewed: 6 Jul 2012