OPINION: How is empathy taught?

Tin Bartolome

Posted at May 19 2017 03:23 PM | Updated as of May 19 2017 03:24 PM

Almost a year ago, I wrote “Caught, not Taught”. It was about a young man and how he imbibed his parents’ values and traits. Today, it is in a different context that I want to write about teaching by example and not just by words.

A few days into the school break and before my friends graduate, I had to collect my thoughts and ward off whatever negative vibes I carried during the semester. Several times, I caught myself saying that I no longer want to enroll. Things just aren’t the same as when I first enrolled in this course. The rooms then had no airconditioning but we were fine. My classmates were very busy but they never resorted to cheating. The classes were big, but each of us was able to share our thoughts and a little of ourselves with the class. There were no teaching apprentices then and the worst one could expect from our professors was a certain degree of detachment.

Though not all teachers are the same, these days, there is a teacher who is judgmental, another who seems in dire need of compliments and praise and one currently in training who does not seem to accept criticism and takes herself too seriously. We are often reminded that all of us are wounded healers, but how does one learn empathy and become nurturing in an environment like this? I honestly don’t know!

I know I am far from perfect and I was worried about doing more harm than good. For weeks, I was looking for cues from those who are supposed to know better than to swoop down on a community and use its members as our guinea pigs for a day—just to get a grade. We were asked not to prepare “thank you” tokens and were not briefed at all about our participants or the role we were supposed to play in the afternoon session. When I expressed this, I was told to make sure we did not raise issues we are unable to deal with.

But something far more insidious bothered me. Before we left the venue, my classmates were talking about meeting somewhere—or at least discussing the final examination of another subject we were to submit the next day. The night before, a young nun actually asked me how to answer one of the questions. I informed her that I belonged to the same class and even reminded her that asking for answers was cheating! One of my classmates said somebody told her it was assumed that the take home exam given online was open for discussion among those who were taking it!

If we could not be trusted to take that individually-graded test without consulting each other, how can we be trusted with the care of others? If grades are more important than honesty and integrity, what other values can be given up in the name of grades? I cannot imagine entrusting the construction of my house to an engineer or an architect who cheated—would they be able to create a structurally sound home for me?

Would you trust your life with a doctor who cheated during his or her board exams? Exams are given so we know what to work or exert effort in. Would you be proud of titles before your name (and initials after) if you know you passed because you cheated?