Speaker 1: Welcome to the conversation, everyone. Today we actually have a full house at the studio to talk about a very interesting topic associated with a very, very bittersweet and very sad slew of events that have happened over the past few weeks with the Parkland shooting, so we’re gonna try to take a perspective on a topic. Essentially we’re gonna be talking about empathy, and looking at how that could potentially be impacting how we as a community deal with that on our day-to-day lives, in very positive ways how it could potentially have implications on that event, both for the people that are dealing with those issues on a day-to-day basis as they recover from that in their communities, and how we deal with looking at the questions that come in as we analyze. And it seems like the world is analyzing this young man is responsible for everything that happened in that shooting, and to lead us in this discussion we have a full house of very interesting scientific and journalistic approach to this commentary.
So basically to do this, and the reason I’m kinda being vague in how to do this, I wanna kinda start the show talking about an article that ran in Huffington Post and then get into our guests and things of that nature. My wife actually was looking, reading a lot about these topics, and she came up with this article in the Huffington Post and it’s really a moving, powerful article, and it’s basically about a teacher. The article of it is this brilliant math teacher has a formula to save kids’ lives, and there was a blog that was written in the Huffington Post, actually March 5th of 2014, and I’ll just read it, a portion of this, and then I’ll open the show in terms of how we usually do, and get everyone’s reaction. And they’ll introduce everything and kinda put a little bit of an idea of who’s here and their reactions will be a little bit more clear.
So this is written on the perspective of one of the mothers of this teacher.
“Every Friday afternoon, Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week.
“All ballots are privately submitted to her, and every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. She looks for patterns. Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who doesn’t even know who to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who has a million friends last week and none this week?
“You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart. She’s not looking for that exceptional citizen. Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the children’s social life. She’s discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. She’s pinning down, right away, who’s being bullied and who’s doing the bullying.
“As a teacher, parent, and a lover of all children, I think it is the most brilliant love-ninja strategy I’ve ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of the classroom to see beneath the surface of the things and into the hearts of the student. It’s like mining for gold. The gold being those little ones who need a little help, who need adults to step in and teach them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, and how to share their gifts with others. This is a bullying deterrent, because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of our eyeshot, and that other kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But, as she said, the truth comes out on those safe, private little sheets of paper.
“As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea, I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said. “Ever since Columbine,” she said.”
“Every afternoon since Columbine.” This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that all violence begins with this connection. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched this tragedy knowing that the children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary. And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. “What Chase’s teacher was doing when she sits down in her empty classroom studying those lists, written with shaky 11-year old hands, is saving lives. I’m convinced of it. She is saving lives.
“Chase’s teacher retires this year, and after decades of saving lives, what a way to spend a life: Looking for patterns of love and loneliness; Stepping in every single day and altering a trajectory of our world. Teachers, you’ve got a million parents behind you, whispering together. We don’t care about those damn standardized tests. We only care that you teach our children to be brave and kind, and we thank you for saving lives.”
So I just wanted to kind of share that, and the thing that we’re talking about is empathy today, which is the capacity to experience the feeling of others, and it’s particularly the suffering that gets a lot of attention in the world of empathy, and empathy is often discussed and thought of… I’m very proud of myself for not falling apart reading that, I could not read that at home once without falling apart, so it’s a good on me.
Empathy’s often discussed and thought of, and it’s actually a big, important thing in medicine and psychology. For example, when we were in medical school we had to be taught empathy. It’s a big part of, and thought of to be an important part of being a good doctor, a good therapist, but also being a good parent. Today we’re gonna discuss empathy in children, and can children be empathetic? If they are not, can parents or teachers teach empathy? And, most importantly, does it matter? Is the effort worth the pursuit?
And to help lead us today, and lead our mind’s eye forward towards this very important answer is our guest. One, we have Dr. Tracy Alloway. She’s an author, she’s a psychologist, she’s a friend of the conversation. She’s an associate professor of psychology at UNF, and she specializes in work memory, and recently on our show that we do together on occasion on Channel 12, First Coast Living, we were talking about empathy and we thought what a great topic to discuss. One, it’s interesting, and then in light of everything going on, teaching our community to be empathetic, especially children, seems like a very interesting topic. She’s a contributor to Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and an author of eight books, including a lot of stuff I wish we could talk about in terms of working memory assessments and things of that nature, so thank you for joining us today.
And a dear friend of mine, a fellow Gator since college. I’ve been trying for about five years now to get you on this show. A former anchor at CBS, Fox News all over the country, and most recently here in Jacksonville, Traci Loggerman. Sorry, Tara Loggerman, thank you for joining us.
Speaker 2: Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: It’s been many, many years of fighting you to get on this show. I don’t know how this happened, and you finally agreed, and-
Speaker 2: The stars aligned.
Speaker 1: I know, and on the schedule, and the one day they do it, they put me all the way across here on the… and don’t allow me to sit next to you guys.
Thank you both for being here, and sorry to not introduce you at the very beginning, but I wanted to, without talking about what you guys did, to open it up with that, and what do you guys think about what the teacher was doing, especially in light of everything that’s going on in terms of the concept of that, the fact that we’re talking about empathy today?
Speaker 3: I think it’s fascinating. Certainly in psychology we know that empathy actually begins with something called theory of mind, and theory of mind refers to the idea that, as an individual, you are aware that you have a mind of your own, but more importantly, we progress to understand that other people’s minds could be different from us.
So in your story, Dr. K, you were talking about bullying behavior, so what we’ve now discovered about bullies in particular is that they actually have fantastic theory of mind. They are very aware of their victim’s perspective, but unfortunately, instead of using that for empathy or for good, they convert that into being able to manipulate that individual.
But previously the idea was that bullies had poor theory of mind. They don’t actually understand the cause or the harm that they’re inflicting, but now we know that that isn’t the case. But we can know from as young as 18 months of age to 24 months of age, we can develop theory of mind in an infant, and continue to develop these kinds of pro-social behaviors like empathy.
Speaker 2: That is so interesting and just hearing you read that story, Dr. Ali, I mean, it, you know, makes me tear up as well. You hear the story of this teacher, I mean, what a brilliant woman to come up with this way of finding out what these kids are really going through. I think it’s such an amazing idea. I wish that maybe teachers all over could do something like that. I know that at my daughter’s school, she does have… There’s a process where they switch tables around every week, and you get to sit next to different kids in the classroom, and it often does become-