Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kindness and empathy

The other day, we happened to see some of one of The Human Spark videos on public tv.  It must have been program 2, "So Human, So Chimp".  The part that has really stuck in my mind is where very young children watching manipulated blocks saw one block that was friendly and cooperative with another block and one that wasn't.  The uncooperative block pushes other blocks, knocks them over and so forth.  The cooperative block assists another over an obstacle and does other helpful actions.  Then, the toddler is offered a choice between the two blocks.  Repeatedly, the "good" block is chosen and the nastier one is rejected.  That children so young could infer which is the good one and which is the nastier one from such abstract behavior and then remember which is which, to later select the one they liked is touching and marvelous.

I have been thinking about what I saw for a week or so.  Today's Time magazine includes an article by Maia Szalavitz called "Kindness 101", a report of training and instruction aimed at lessening or eliminating bullying behavior.  There are several promising approaches but a  notable one featured in Time relies on groups of children meeting a baby and the parent.  The program called "Roots of Empathy" was founded in Canada by Mary Gordon
.  If the pictures of youngsters observing babies and toddlers on the linked web site don't honestly get your humanity flowing, seek help.

(copyedited by L.S. Kirby)

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