People need to build social awareness and develop the ability to build empathy for others.
Last year, in July, I tested positive for Covid 19. By that time, many relatives and acquaintances had died in hospitals. The news spread quickly on WhatsApp. My friends and relatives started sending me best wishes with good intentions but, to my surprise, their good wishes had a counter effect on me. Here are some samples:
You are a strong woman; you will live long.
I have asked children in a madrasa to read the Quran for you.
If you die, you will be shaheed.
Their good wishes made me feel depressed. I was scared to die because there were, and still are, so many in completions in my life. But I regained my composure by switching off my phone.
Reflecting now on this experience of mine, it is evident that people need to build social awareness and develop the ability to build empathy for others. It is important to recognize other people’s emotions and understand how others see the situation they are in. What I wanted to hear from others when I was down with the virus was what I could do to build strength and protect my lungs from getting infected. I learnt that it is crucial in such situations for people to express empathy in words that give hope and courage to a person who is going through a challenging time.
The competencies needed for social awareness make the critical role of empathy obvious. Empathic people understand the needs of others. They know how to step into other people’s shoes and see a situation from the perspective of the other. They do this by building listening skills. We need to learn to practice listening with full receptiveness and connecting to people with a background of being non- judgmental.
Prosocial Skills and Norms
Just like schools teach study skills that are conducive to scholastic performance, we need to teach young people behaviours that promote positive actions that benefit others and are not prompted by the desire for personal gain. Hadith literature abounds in such prosocial skills, such as smiling, removing a stone from the road, taking the initiative in greeting, responding with kind words to insult, taking care of one’s neighbour, and paying for service promptly, just to name a daily living skill.
Giving as a Way of Receiving
Arranging for students to give to others can help them in becoming more socially aware. Children don’t need to understand the concept of giving just intellectually. Rather, they need to get it, by experiencing the feeling of giving to others. Schools should provide opportunities to practice giving, such as by encouraging students to donate clothes, books or toys. Schools could connect with NGO s and embark upon a character development curriculum, where adolescents are engaged in social work, and this can be reflected in their report cards. The education system needs a thorough revamping, where equal focus needs to be given to the mind and the heart and to the hands engaged in service.
Focus on Others
Research has confirmed that being aware of body language and facial expressions when others speak can provide information not included in the words that are spoken. However, much communication occurs through platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Faceless messages can be dangerous. Without information derived from facial expression, tone of voice, and body language, it is so easy to misinterpret a message. Students need some social norms for messaging and for social media. Previously, if something embarrassing happened in our lives, it would be talked about in limited space and time, but today, something can turn up online that could persist for the rest of a student’s life. The hope is that if we have taught empathic behaviour to our young ones, fewer of these situations will occur.