Monday, April 12, 2010

It Turns Out She's a Robot

The other day I read an article about what makes people, like Andre Aggasi, high achievers. At the end of the article the author says:’s too easy to let admiration of such skills overshadow less visible attributes — like kindness and generosity. While I may marvel at great achievers, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to live in a world full of them.
That got me thinking - what makes someone into a kind and generous person anyway? Do they need to be taught to be generous? Just feel empathy? Both? Its hard enough to teach your kid to share; how do you hone their sense of empathy?

Apparently empathy, or as them sciency folk call it "theory of mind", develops at age 4. So, does that mean my daughter can feel no empathy? There's just some little sociopath wandering around our living room, grabbing at everything in site and pooping in her pants? Honestly, that kind of freaks me out. It also reminds me of that Small Wonder TV show and/or Data from Star Trek - in diapers. Gross.

Anyway, those scientists' studies show that language skills and the ability to listen to, and understand, someone else's point of view are linked to the development of empathy. And more importantly, that its not genetic, but tied to people's learned ability to understand language. That seems to indicate that we can, in fact, teach our kids to be more empathetic people. But is it like language where, if you haven't learned it by a certain age it will be a very difficult skill for you to acquire? Maybe there should be programs aimed at teaching empathy to kids just like there are programs aimed at teaching language. Wouldn't that be good for society in general? Do they exist already? Can I sign half the people in the Washington D.C. area up for one of those classes?!

So many questions. What do you think? Can kids be taught empathy?

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