By Claire Gaglione, AmeriCorps member at Livingston Elementary
Empathy is a sticky frame of mind. When you take it upon yourself to see the world from someone else’s point of view, they become entwined with you. I think empathy is the reason my teammate says he hears his students calling his name even when he is home sitting on his sofa. I think it is the reason I sometimes wake up at night speaking to my third graders, or trying to re-arrange their desks for the thirtieth time.
I believe there is something supernatural about empathy. It is perhaps the closest thing we have to clairvoyance. Empathy can de-escalate an angry student, can cut through your urge to explain their obviously inappropriate choice, can make you search for the reasoning behind their actions, can make you respond to their rant in a calm voice: “So you feel like there was a misunderstanding, and now you’re upset?” It’s always a misunderstanding, now they can be understood. Eventually, they agree in a calm voice, “Yes,”
“So what can we do now? How can we do better?” you ask.
But then, there is something about empathy--true, hard won empathy--that makes it hard to leave people. In some sense, their spirit becomes tangled up with yours. After all, what is a ghost but a spirit you’ve come to know?
Aside from its mystical properties, empathy can be incredibly simple. For me, in its purest form, empathy is me standing on the playground with one of my third graders. Her in her worn out pink coat, one arm wrapped around me, my arm over her shoulders. We didn’t talk about how she was far behind academically, but still tried her hardest every day, or how she and her sisters had been homeless after their mom lost her job months ago. We just stood there, sharing the quiet together for most of recess.
There is some small part of me that will always be standing on that playground next to her.