Empathy is the Toronto District School Board’s character trait being spotlighted in November. Empathy is also a vital component in Thinking Forward’s anti-bullying character education programs.

Taking on and practicing empathy marks a major vantage-point shift for many students (and many adults, as well). The key idea is that, rather than observing a person or a situation passively or in a disengaged way, one is able to feel and understand what another person is experiencing. It’s the ability to, as my people say, walk in someone else’s moccasins. Bullying often stems from one person’s observation of another’s differences or what they perceive as weaknesses. Empathy teaches us to not attack those things, but rather come alongside that person and attempt to understand them and make a positive difference for them. Words like empathy come to us from a rootword that actually means ‘to suffer’ – when we practice empathy, we need a willingness to enter into someone else’s suffering, in whatever form that might take, and rather than tear them down, walk with them and build them up.

There is a student-made sign in a school in my neighbourhood that reads “if you do nothing, it’s like you are a bully too.” I think that child understands the central idea of empathy perfectly; if I see someone being bullied, it should move me. It should not only make me feel something, but it should move me to act to lift them from their suffering. Though we say this in this space every month, I hope it doesn’t lose its edge, because we mean it in all sincerity: we are beyond grateful for the excellent work of those who make Thinking Forward’s programming a reality – who pass on the value of empathy (and so many other worthy things) to students across our great city. And we’re also, always, grateful to those who contribute in any way to Thinking Forward’s work. If you’re not already involved, please consider how you might make a difference in strengthening the lives of students and building stronger communities across Toronto.