Empathy. I wish we had been taught this emotion as young children. I vividly recall the day that I realized people can be just downright mean for no reason at all – fourth grade. Nearing the end of lunch period, I had just left my spot at the table to put up my tray. On my way back to the table, I slipped on spinach someone had dropped on the cafeteria floor. Lucky me, I didn’t fall on my butt … because I sort of tipped over and backward and my right arm caught in the garbage can. Obviously embarrassed, I tried to gain composure and thought to myself — just make it to the restroom and clean yourself up.
But as I pulled myself up, arm, shoulder and side covered in disposed school lunches, I heard and saw two of my ‘friends’ laughing hysterically and pointing at me. My favorite of the cafeteria ladies (as we called them) was Ms. Rosalie. She saw the whole episode, walked over, handed me some napkins and said — You fell, but you’re still above them. You will have the loudest laugh in life.
From that day on, I walked with my head down, partly so that I didn’t slip on any food, but mostly because I had no self confidence. To be perfectly honest, the more I thought about it, I couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t been teased or made fun of.
It started with being teased because, supposedly, I had big feet for my age. Maybe I did, but it’s kind of mean to continuously point that out to a girl who will already inherently be faced with enough judgement from peers growing up.
From big feet, the list of culprits grew as did the reasons why I was made fun of. I had a big nose; my skin was less than perfect. I needed braces; I wasn’t good at sports. My hair was frizzy sometimes because I didn’t know how to fix it. I was and still am quiet, shy, introverted … I’m a Pisces and a middle child for crying out loud. Simply put, I was an easy target.
The lack of self confidence followed me through the remainder of grade school and into high school and college.
Somewhere along the line of finding my identity during and post-college, my confidence started to grow. Somewhere along the line, I learned how to be empathetic. I put myself in the shoes of others and realized that everyone who teased me about having big feet was metaphorically right – I had my own big shoes to fill by way of kindness, being genuine, a good listener, by just being a good person. I grew into those big shoes just nicely and can confidently say that being empathetic is one of my best qualities. And to set the record straight, I wear a women’s 7.5 now at 35.
A Lesson in Empathy
I realized that there are worse things in life than slipping on some spinach and basically falling in a garbage can. With accepting this lesson, I choose to laugh the loudest at that story. I choose to laugh the loudest in life. Now, as a mother, I plan to tell my children this story; I want to teach them empathy and to foster growth. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it’s an important one. I want them to know how I felt that day I was laughed at, so that they don’t make others feel that way.
How will you teach your children empathy?