Recently I have noticed that many celebrities and common folks are attempting to spread hope by singing such beautiful songs as “What a Wonderful World.” The thought occurred to me that graduating high school seniors, as well as college seniors, might be questioning what a wonderful world it is when their graduations have been mostly virtual and they are unable to immediately move forward with their lives. There are few if any jobs open to them, and there is a question of whether college classes will begin in the fall.
This reality was brought home to me Sunday when one of my former grandparents called me heartbroken. Her granddaughter, Omarian Vaughn, had been in school since pre-K and was graduating this year never having missed a day of school. The grandmother was so proud of this accomplishment, she had requested that an article be published about her attendance in local newspapers. She found that newspapers did not view this story as newsworthy. I was the former principal of the high school that Omarian attended. Most of the students were from underserved families, and I knew how this family and Omarian had struggled, and what an accomplishment her perfect attendance had been. I almost wept as the story was revealed to me by the grandmother. It goes without saying that empathy is not a part of newspapers’ decision making.
Simultaneous screen sharing provides a Zoom gallery view of participants happily singing in unison, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” I would submit to you that what the world needs is also empathy – “not just for some, but for EVERYONE.” To understand and to share the feelings of another is always important, but perhaps even more important now than it has been in recent years. Can you empathize with the renter as described in the Texas Tribune on May 19, 2020? The individual lived in a small house in Belton and did not want to move, but her landlord had placed a “For Rent” sign in her front yard, because on May 23,2020 the renter will owe $1650 plus utilities. When she told the landlord that she could not pay, she apologized by saying, “I’m sorry this is happening. It’s out of our control.” The landlord insisted that she had to leave since according to the Texas Supreme Court, their decision of halting eviction since March 19,2020 had been changed and, in a decision the previous week, the court ruled that evictions can resume. Clearly, empathy was not shown by the courts nor the landlord.
Lauren Powell Jobs often expresses her feelings of empathy by her behavior and on social media. In the New York Times recently, she stated, “…we don’t have to accept the world that we are born into as something that is fixed, impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms like us. And they move all the time and through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it.”
Van Jones and Oprah Winfrey reflect empathetic feelings when they speak in person and on social media. Is it possible that the 2020 seniors could use these and other role models to learn and express empathy to make the world a better place for all people? Having suffered through problems of a pandemic, this class, more than any recently, can change the world by collectively making it more empathetic. Below are suggestions for steps that could be taken:
· While psychologists suggest that empathy is usually learned by the age of four or five, perhaps it can be learned later by understanding the meaning of empathy, witnessing role models who are empathetic, identifying the empathetic skills and practicing them. By doing this, you can adopt empathy as a pattern of behavior, and it will become a way of life.
· Get outside yourself as you learn more about the problems that others are having because of the pandemic. This will require listening not only with your head, but also with your heart. Reach out and take steps to offer help. Find creative ways to let others know you understand their feelings.
· Be willing to take responsible risks to address the issues on a local, state, and national level. As an example, what could be done about the inordinate number of minorities dying from the Covid 19? Why is it happening in vast numbers on the Native American reservations? Be open to new learnings. Put yourself in the place of the people who are affected by their circumstances.
In my book, Whispers of Hope: The Story of My Life, I discuss the need for a new movement that will broadcast empathy across the land. I challenge the graduating seniors of 2020 to create a world of empathy that will communicate the need for honesty, kindness, caring, forgiveness, and justice. Consider this a call to action. Empathy will no longer be a whisper but a major part of this broadcast. Will they accept this challenge and run with it? Let us all join forces with these graduates to create a new way of being.