#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson is the Need for More Compassion and Tolerance

As someone who stands up for literacy, the education of your youth, and compassion, I have to talk about Ahmed Mohamed.

Ahmed, as reported by news organizations, built a digital clock and took it to school to show to his teacher.

It was a proud moment for him.

A Student's Pride Quickly Turns to Disappointment, Fear

But what began as an example of a child being proud of his work and wanting some validation went very wrong.

What happened? As you may know, instead of his teacher applauding his work, she sent Ahmed to the principal’s office. When the police arrived, they handcuffed the 14-year-old Texas student and drove off with him.

Everyone initially seemed to think the boy built and brought a bomb to school. When the truth was revealed – that Ahmed had simply built a clock – Ahmed was released.

As the news followed this story, Ahmed became a sensation on social media. Soon, #IStandWithAhmed soared in popularity on Twitter.

Ahmed’s father wasn’t too happy about the incident. He’s quoted as having said he believed that his son had been profiled because of his name and because of what occurred in New York City on September 11.

What’s true is that instead of investigating Ahmed’s invention further or asking him more questions, the school called the police.

I have to admit that schools tend to be on edge these days. There have been far too many school shootings than I care to count, but Ahmed’s case is especially troubling.

U.S. President & High-Tec Executives Take Note of Ahmed

The teaching of empathy in education gains a lot of attention these days. Yet, when confronted with society members of certain cultural backgrounds, we resort to prejudice and worse. Why?

What happened to Ahmed was wrong on so many levels. We talk about compassion and quote everyone from The Dalai Lama to Martin Luther King, Jr. yet we still tend to fall back on our prejudices or fears about certain cultural stereotypes, especially Muslims.

Fortunately, in the aftermath of the original news reports, many people reached out to Ahmed. This is what President Obama tweeted:

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.

And here’s what Hillary Clinton wrote:

Assumptions and fear don't keep us safe—they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building.

What a great message!

Ahmed also caught the attention of numerous, high-tech executives.

This is what Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, wrote on his Timeline:

Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed. Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I'd love to meet you. Keep building.

Twitter extended an invitation as well and Google tweeted this on September 16:

Hey Ahmed - we're saving a seat for you at this weekend's Google Science Fair...want to come? Bring your clock! ‪#IStandwithAhmed

Long History of Intolerance in Our Society

As the story evolves, there is news that perhaps Ahmed didn’t really build a clock. Maybe he rebuilt one. That part of this story doesn’t concern me. What does interest me is the issue of prejudice and lack of empathy that is too prevalent in our society.

Ahmed judiciously made the decision to look for a new school. Who can blame him?

Let’s just hope that his new school treats him with more compassion and less bias. Let’s hope that his new school exemplifies the best in compassion teachings.

#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson in Compassion & Empathy

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.

Turn the Other Cheek: Lessons in Empathy

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about empathy so I thought I would return to the topic today.

People can often confuse the terms empathy and sympathy. How do they differ?

Let’s say that you have a friend whose husband just died. You could send a card and attend the service, and those acts would be expressions of sympathy.

What if you called or went to her home, sat with your friend and just listened to her? You might look into her eyes and tell her how sorry you were. Now you’re expressing empathy.

You’re empathetic when you are present to another person’s pain, hurt, or sorrow. Your actions show that you care, and you are available for support.

This is how UC Berkeley’s Greater Good: The Science of Meaningful Life describes empathy: 

… ‘empathy’ is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Learn about Emotional Literacy from Mary Gordon

Parents and teachers can do a lot to teach empathy, what Mary Gordon would call emotional literacy, in the U.S. Just listen to Mary Gordon in this short video. She will inspire you!

Lessons in Empathy for Kids and Adults

Here are reasons to practice empathy and teach children to mature into empathic adults.

  • Empathic adults are more likely to help others, especially those in need. This trait can lead children and adults to care about the environment as well.
  • A study suggests that empathy can reduce racism and prejudice. Learn more about the study at UC Berkeley
  • Empathy can lead to sustained marriages. How? Understanding your partner or spouse’s feelings can deepen intimacy. It’s also helpful in conflict resolution. To learn more, read this article
  • Mary Gordon’s Roots of Empathy Program shows how empathy can reduce bullying. 
  • The book, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, delves into the theory that empathy can lead to not just kind but heroic acts. 
  • When we are empathic, we are more likely to help others, such as the poor.

Practice Empathy Daily: It's Good for Your Health

Finally, according to UC Berkeley:

Empathy is good for your health. A large-scale study found that doctors high in empathy have patients who enjoy better health; other research suggests training doctors to be more empathic improves patient satisfaction and the doctors’ own emotional well-being.

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good project recommends these tips for anyone wanting to be more empathic in their lives.

  • Focus your attention outwards: Try to be mindful of your surroundings and the behaviors of others.
  • Get out of your head. You can increase your level of empathy by imagining what someone else might be experiencing.
  •  Don’t jump to conclusions about others.
  • Meditate: Research shows that a practice of loving-kindness meditation – the practice of sending healing and love to a friend or a community you’re your energy – will increase your capacity for empathy.
  • Reading fiction will help you to explore the emotions of others.
  • Music boosts empathy in children.
  • Learn how to communicate nonviolently.
  • Combat inequality.
  • Study facial expressions.

To learn more about developing lessons in empathy and how to teach empathy in the classroom, check out The Ashoka Foundation’s Start Empathy initiative, which tracks educators’ best practices for teaching empathy. 

9-9-15 Empathy -Elizabeth B. Martin


Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.

New Book Tackles Compassionate Solutions for Classroom Challenges

My last post was about a Wisconsin study that used mindfulness training in the classroom. As you already know, this is a favorite topic of mine.

Mindfulness training is wonderful because inherent in the teaching are lessons about compassion and empathy, traits we want our children to develop so that they become socially responsible adults who care about the future of our world.

There is a new book titled 55 Teaching Dilemmas: Ten Powerful Solutions to Almost Any Classroom Challenge, by Kathy Paterson. This book offers strategies for dealing with classroom challenges with compassion and empathy.

Take a look at the book's synopsis:

To teach with excellence demands more than strategies and techniques. The most successful teachers draw on their personal power—their confidence, compassion, and empathy, and their professional power—their ability to lead, instruct, and inspire their students to do their best. With practice, most teachers can develop the skills they need to conquer almost any classroom challenge.

Compassionate Solutions for Classroom Challenges

In Chapter One, this book notes numerous ways teachers can help their students to show active compassion toward others:

  • Provide encouragement all the time. It is a much better experience for the student when adults can take the time to encourage positive expectations.
  • A smile can work wonders, can't it? It can change the student outlook for the entire day or an entire week. Just think how you felt as a child when the teacher smiled at you in class and gave you a hug after class? Smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement can work wonders with children.
  • Follow the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated. In other words, encourage your students to be courteous to others.
  • Help your students to feel safe in the classroom. For some students, this might mean it's important to leave the classroom door open or to not sit too closely to a child. It isn't easy to discern the family life of each child in the classroom. Some children come from homes that are abusive verbally, physically, or even sexually. Each child will have their sense of comfort level and it's important to be as attuned to this as possible
  • Instead of making all the decisions for your classroom on your own, from time to time ask your students what they would like to do next. Allow them to select a book for you to read aloud or to decide whether they want to use crayons for their drawings or paint.
  • Take the time to get to know your students. We know that teachers don't have a lot of time given their work schedules and the push these days to prepare students for tests. But the better you get to know your students, the better you will understand them.
  • Never take for granted the power of observation. Observe your students body language to determine how they are feeling in the classroom.
  • Do all you can to maintain calmness in your classroom and to avoid explosive situations.
  • It's important to respect your students' friendships. If it makes them more comfortable to sit with their friends, allow them to do this so long as their behavior doesn't become disruptive to the entire class.
  • Look for signs of suffering in your students. The best way to help is through active listening.
  • Try to monitor playground squabbles or in-class disagreements and find ways to come to amicable solutions.

How to Show Empathy in the Classroom

There are numerous ways that teachers can show empathy towards her/his students and in the classroom. Here are a few suggestions from this wonderful new book:

  • Get to know your students as individuals and try to align your expectations with each student's needs.
  • Treat all of your students with dignity and respect and help your students to treat others in the same manner.
  • When a child is confiding in you, practice active listening and do your best to refrain from interrupting with advice.
  • Adopt empathetic responses to help you respond to situations in the classroom without judgment. By doing this, you will be setting an example for your students to express less judgment toward others in their lives.

To learn more about this topic, be sure to check out the book and consider subscribing to Education World, a great resource for teachers that offers lesson plans, professional development opportunities, and an active blog.

 Drawing by Author and Illustrator Elizabeth B.  Martin


Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free

Empathy, Sympathy and Why Your Child’s Drawings Are Important

We hear a lot about compassion lately and empathy.

A mistake that some people make is they equate empathy with sympathy.

In this video by speaker Dr. Brené Brown and sponsored by the Renaissance Society of Amercian, Dr. Brown explains the difference and helps us to understand why expressions of empathy are always the better choice.

The Four Qualities of Empathy

Dr. Brown explains that while empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.

She also explains nursing scholar Teresa Wiseman’s four qualities of empathy

  1. Take a perspective of another person.
  2. Staying out of judgment.
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people.
  4. Communicating the emotion you detect in others.

Are Your Words Sympathetic or Empathetic?

As she explains in the video, if a friend were feeling trapped in a sorrowful moment, the empathetic response would be to say, “I know what it’s like and you’re not alone.”

Or you could say, “I’m so glad you told me.”

Empathy is communicating with people. To be empathic requires us to go to a vulnerable place within ourselves and to connect with another friend from that place.

Another empathetic response might be, “I don’t know what to say right now.”

Expressing sympathy is easier.

Sympathetic responses start with the words “at least.” For example:

If a friend were to express sorrow about a miscarriage, a sympathetic person might say, “At least you already have a child.”

If a friend were to express concern about problems in her or his marriage, a sympathetic friend might say, “At least you’re married.”

As you can see, those responses aren’t helpful at all. And they do nothing to ease the pain of the person who is suffering.

… I know what it’s like and you’re not alone.

Empathy is a vulnerable choice. To connect with you, I have to go to a vulnerable place in myself and feel that place where you’re at.

Sympathy begins with “at least” … “at least you don’t have cancer” … at least you know you can get pregnant

So if a friend is going through a tough time, remember that the deeper the connection you make with that friend in her time of need will outweigh any words you use.

Empathy and Drawing

To enable your children to grow up to become empathic adults, encourage them to draw.

As you may recall, last week I explained why art is critical to your child’s development.

This week, I encourage you to work with your children or students on drawing marine animals, especially jellyfish.

When children are encouraged to draw creatures of the earth and the sea, they will begin to appreciate them more, want to learn about them more, and one day, act in ways that will protect them.

One of the best ways for your children to learn to express empathy is by encouraging them to draw animals and creatures of the sea. In this manner their appreciation of these creatures will grow, their knowledge will expand, and their ability to feel compassion and empathy will soar.

To help your children learn more about jellyfish, visit my previous post The Amazing World Of Jellyfish The Amazing World Of Jellyfish.and visit my pinboard of colorful jellyfish on Pinterest.

Jasmine coloring_2

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.