Science, Mathematics, English and Empathy. In Denmark it is a subject that complements traditional subjects to prepare children and young people to face their lives better. Every week, students aged between six and sixteen have the “Klassens tid” at their disposal. It is a space where everyone can share emotions, personal problems and difficulties and listen to or receive advice on how to deal with them better. All with the help of the teacher and a chocolate cake that the students have the task of preparing and taking to class in turn. The target? To create a pleasant atmosphere, called “hygge” able to train empathy. We talk about this topic with Dr. Agnese Rossi, a psychologist from Humanitas Gavazzeni.
A subject like any other
From the Greek ‘en pathos’ or “feeling inside”, empathy has to do with the ability to perceive and share the emotions of others to better tune with the people we are close to. The need and importance of developing empathy and strengthening is demonstrated by a study conducted by the University of Michigan that spoke of a significant drop in the level of this sentiment among young Americans today compared to those of the 1980s and 1990s in relation to the increase in mental health problems and depression of the same.
“It is interesting that this subject is taught in schools and it is certainly useful, but this choice makes us think,” commented Dr. Rossi: In the past, basic abilities about being empathetic were learned from an early age, living them on one’s own skin, in the family or in contexts of socialization through playing, being together, sharing most of one’s time with other peers and with adult reference figures considered authoritative; today, however, the tendency of our culture to a marked individualism and the use of computers and mobile phones as main means of communication, sometimes leads to weakening the acquisition of relational skills that must therefore be proposed as a school subject”.
Is it really so important to learn to be empathic?
Empathy is the fundamental ingredient for creating constructive and enriching interpersonal relationships. It means knowing how to “put oneself in the shoes of the other” in order to perceive one’s emotions, without merging or confusing oneself, that is maintaining a well-defined boundary between oneself and the other person, between one’s own emotional world and that of the other. It means learning to build emotional bridges between ourselves and others, forging bonds, understanding each other in depth, making emotional contact and feeling less alone. To be in tune with the people around us leads us to build affective bonds.
“The term “bond” could be understood as the opposite of being free – added the specialist: in reality it implies the creation of relationships that go beyond the anonymity of impersonal, functional or formal relationships and allows us to enter into emotional resonance with the other. Building real bonds also means making our homes, our workplaces, our cities more habitable, where we often touch many people, but rarely really meet each other”.
In concrete terms, what comes into play when you are empathetic? Sometimes it may seem more convenient to give priority to solitude, because it makes us feel independent and autonomous, it gives us an apparent feeling of freedom without constraints, but it risks taking away the wealth, often tiring, of living empathic relational experiences that move within us moods that come into resonance, through the sharing of meanings, experiences, projects, moments of solidarity and mutual support. “Approaching others in an empathetic way – added Rossi – also means learning to manage conflicts not according to the logic of winning or losing, but in a constructive and non-aggressive way, with the ability to handle emotions such as anger, disappointment, bitterness.
Neuroscience also confirms the importance of empathy
With recent research on mirror neurons present in various areas of the brain, which are activated when you observe an action performed by a person; This indicates an emotional involvement that our neurons signal when we empathically “mirror” each other.