Girl Scouts are on a mission to change the world—when we see injustice in our community, we dig to the root of the issue and find a solution. As we work to create a more kind and just world, understanding and connecting with others is essential. When we step into someone else’s shoes, share their feelings, and honor their perspectives, we empathize with them. Research has shown that human brains are hard-wired for empathy—and just like muscles, the more we train and flex those abilities, the stronger they become. How can we develop these skills ourselves, and help our girls to build them too? Let’s explore:
Aim for real face time
Have you ever been confused by the tone of an email or text? Was the sender being sarcastic or sincere? Being able to read body language is key to emotional literacy. Facial expressions, eye contact, and posture are all nonverbal cues that affect the messages we send, but we don’t see those aspects through the phone. Kids need plenty of opportunities to practice and engage in meaningful face-to-face interactions with other people to build their emotional literacy. Luckily, troop meetings are a great opportunity for girls to practice tuning into other people’s different needs and feelings. During meetings, encourage girls to put their phones away and focus on the friends right in front of them.
Be a role model
Our girls look to us to see how we deal with our emotions and how we handle the emotions of people around us. When we show compassion to ourselves when we make a mistake or to a friend who’s having a tough day, we’re also showing our girls the powerful impact of empathy. If we tell girls that it’s important to practice empathy, but then do the opposite in our daily lives, the message won’t get through.
Sometimes we won’t understand why someone is feeling the way they are or don’t know how to solve their problems. Other times, in trying to make things better, we inadvertently sweep painful feelings under the rug when we say things like, “Look on the bright side…” or “It’s really not that big of a deal. You don’t have to be so sad.” But simply acknowledging someone’s emotions can help them feel heard. In the words of the wise Dr. Brené Brown, “The truth is, rarely can a response make something better; what makes something better is a connection.”
It’s your story—share it, it’s their story—hear it
Each one of us has a wealth of stories that shape who we are and how we see the world (it’s not the theme to one of our Girl Scout Journeys for nothing!). Empathy is built into our brains, but, unfortunately, so is prejudice. When we engage in open and genuine conversations with each other though, we can fight and challenge the assumptions we have about other people and expand our worldview—all of which build empathy.
We all have the capacity for empathy. Of course, sometimes practicing empathy is much easier said than done. But if we’re serious about building girls of courage, confidence, and character, then empathy isn’t just an option, it’s essential to truly change the world.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. In her free time, Lily enjoys going for long runs, reading, and spending time with her family (including her five-year-old daughter who is a Daisy this year!).