Giving action to empathy

The gravitation of trends in communication, culture, and transportation – all drawing us closer together – is irreversible. This calls for heaping bushels of empathy. 


Does empathy need to be taught? This week’s cover story by staff writer Sara Miller Llana looks at the unique way Denmark has answered that question.  

I can’t say that my fifth-grade daughter’s school has gone as far as Denmark has, where empathy training is so ingrained in the culture that it has a cake named after it. But this month, on the first day of school, there was the elementary school’s new motto hanging on a banner on the front fence: “Kindness comes first.”

So I asked my daughter what she thought of the talk about understanding and kindness at school. At first, she hedged: It was all right. But before long, the truth came out. “I’d rather have recess.”

Actually, there’s something to that. 

I never had empathy classes. Am I empathy-deficient? Here, my wife (a preschool teacher) intervened to save me from perdition: When we were kids, we learned empathy on playgrounds and in our friends’ backyards, she argued. We played. We fought. We cried. We learned. 

With today’s playgrounds now confined to adult-managed travel team practices or the tiny expanse of an iPhone screen, empathy education is a sign of the times.

To be sure, this is what you might call the Age of Empathy. The times simply demand it. 

All the lines that we have drawn around ourselves – from race to nationality – are getting fainter. Recent elections across Europe, Asia, and the United States might suggest a backlash. But the gravitation of trends in communication, culture, and transportation – all drawing us closer together – is irreversible. 

This calls for heaping bushels of empathy. 

The good news is that life offers a classroom of sorts, too.

Houston Texans’ football player J.J. Watt keeps raising his Harvey fundraising goal because people keep blowing the roof off the old one. He’s now up to $20 million. 

And in England, when it was discovered that a young math whiz from Wolverhampton was being denied a place at Oxford University because of what appeared to be a clerical error on his immigration papers from Zimbabwe, everyone from celebrities to politicians to the local police rallied to support him. He now has the required paperwork.

In both of these cases, something more than empathy was at work, too. Empathy helps us understand each other. That’s vital. But love is what does the work. 

Perhaps the memory of lava lamps and bell bottoms is still too emotionally raw for us to embrace that word openly. But empathy is only the elevator. Love is the action. 

In facing the British, Mohandas Gandhi said he wished to redeem his enemies by love. In contemplating the language of Scripture, Martin Luther once commented: “What word is more rich than that word, ‘love’?” The founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote: “I make strong demands on love....”

From Houston to Wolverhampton, and in schools from Massachusetts to Denmark, love is empathy empowered – a lesson to be learned in any classroom or even at recess. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Giving action to empathy
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today