A recent article featured a story about an elementary school in Japan that teaches students about empathy and sacrifice. It gives us pause for thought: Is this a subject we are missing in American education today?
In this series of moral lessons, students were introduced to an incredibly important topic: “Understanding others’ feelings.”
The students were guided by some questions like: “Have you ever helped your friends? Talk about a situation in which you need to help your friends.”
The students then excitedly cited some examples of how they helped their friends: when their friends fell down, they ran to lift them up; when their friends cried, they comforted them.
The teacher complimented the students for their good deeds and encouraged them to keep on.
The teacher then asked: “How do you feel when you are loved and cared for by your parents?” The students, one by one, named the various emotions that come from this knowledge, such as joy and excitement.
The teacher smiled and said: “You all attach a lot of importance to your own feelings? You all hope to be loved, cared for, and treated well by your parents and your beloved, don’t you?” The kids nodded happily.
The teacher then concluded: “Now you should know how to comfort others and help others through their hardships. Only when you understand others’ feelings and emotions can you share their burden, wipe away their tears, and motivate them to keep on themselves.”
“You should be able to take their feelings as yours,” the kindly teacher continued, “and put yourself in others’ shoes. Naturally, if you want to be treated well, you should treat others well. You should treat others the same way you treat yourselves.”
This inspiring moral lesson echoes that of the brilliant novel Little Women (1868-1869) by Louisa May Alcott. The four little girls in the novel are willing to give up their own Christmas gifts for a poor neighboring family, helped by their mother, but this simple act brought them so much authentic joy.
They happily make a little sacrifice just to bring some comfort and love to their dear “Marmee.” The girls are willing to let go of their own interests, despite thinking “regretfully of all the pretty things” they wanted.
Finally, they banded together to spend the meager money they had worked hard to earn to get some essential items for their long-suffering mother.
On Christmas morning, when learning of the extent of their neighbors’ poverty, the Little Women once again accepted their mother‘s proposal of giving away the festive breakfast that they were so longing for.
Without empathy and consideration for others, how could they have made such a sacrifice?
Empathy and sacrifice are notions that are seemingly lacking in the minds of many children today, children who have plenty, and no need to think of others.
Maybe it is time to bring the lessons of empathy and sacrifice back to the next generation, starting in our homes, spreading to our schools, and finally into the wide world.