While definitions of empathy vary considerably, the need for mutual understanding between human beings has never been higher. The ability to take the perspective of another and to use this information to act compassionately is a high point in human development. Are we born with this capacity or is it something learned? The simple answer: both. Following the classic storyline of the hero’s journey, we are given a gift, we lose it, and we engage in the adventure of getting it back.
It is a principle in Waldorf education that we don’t simply identify an issue and hammer away on it; we paint the broadest picture possible and work with the factors that support and develop the issue. So, in the case of empathy, what can we do? Well, about 100 years ago Rudolf Steiner postulated 12 senses. He claimed that the first 4, senses of bodily awareness, established the foundation for the last 4, social senses. Modern science now corroborates this. For a cursory glance at some of the scientific research that supports this I have attached an academic paper I wrote this summer as part of my undergraduate studies called, The Role of Motor Development in the Development of Empathy. (This is just the beginning of my research on this topic!)
The Foundations of Empathy: I offer an evening presentation or a full blown workshop on this topic. Last October I gave this presentation to the faculty of the Haleakala Waldorf School. They enjoyed it so much they asked me back in February to give the same presentation to the parents of their students as well as a workshop at their teacher’s conference.