There is “The Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and then there is the “Platinum Rule”
Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them
Years ago I read the book by Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor about the four basic personalities and how to see people differently, understand them better and deal with them in ways that they would want to be treated. It made a lot of sense, and honestly, it helped me understand my husband better – he wanted fast, goal-orientated interaction whereas I was slower paced and focused on harmony. As soon as we both understood that we were treating each other the way we wanted to be treated and not the way the other person wanted to be treated, it made a world of difference.
It is all about empathy. Understanding others. Here is a powerful example of how empathy is often misunderstood:
On the Leading is Learning website there is an interesting article about empathy. You may have read last winter the heart warming story of a police officer who bought a pair of boots for a homeless man. He bought the boots with his own money. A passerby saw the interaction, took a photo, the picture went viral and the story made national news: An empathetic police officer.
The officer had great intentions and he gave from his heart. He, however, misunderstood the need of the homeless man. A month after the gift of the boots a journalist returned to the homeless man to find him barefoot. When asked why he wasn’t wearing the boots, the man said, “Those shoes are hidden, they are worth a lot of money-I could lose my life.” (New York Times.)
This anecdote gets at a core challenge with empathy in leadership. Empathy isn’t about treating other people well. It’s about understanding that other people’s needs and expectations – what they mean by “being treated well” – might be very different than your own.
What does this mean in a school? Leading is Learning suggests that school leaders need to listen to their community and really understand the experiences of their clientele. Whether it is in designing the daily schedule, a new report card or the new cafeteria:
Innovative school leaders need to take the time to “play Anthropologist,” in the words of IDEO designer David Kelley. They need to understand what other people experience on a daily basis, and what values and norms they carry with them.
To a teacher, it means taking time to understand your students. Ask them questions, listen to their answers. What kind of day are they having? What are they worried about? What do they love to do? Where do they want to sit and why?
As teachers, we all wish the best for our students. It is who we are, that’s why we do what we do. Empathising with them, understanding their experiences, needs and motivations will help us, the teachers, help our students get what they need. This is compassionate teaching.
In the book I am reading now, Olivia Fox Cabane, offers these definitions:
Goodwill: wishing the other person well
Empathy: understanding the other’s experience
Compassion: Goodwill + Empathy
How would you assess your level of compassion in the classroom?