Empathy Begins Here



In my granddaughter Mia’s preschool, five small white toilets are lined up along a tiled bathroom wall just around the corner from five conveniently low sinks for washing hands. The boys and girls in the Peacefulness classroom line up together to take turns on the toilets. Like many of her classmates, Mia is not quite three years old, so learning to go to the “potty” by herself and leaving diapers behind has been a developmental milestone of which she is understandably quite proud.

Maybe conquering this grown-up task so recently is what has made her empathize with a classmate (I’ll call him Jack) who found that using the school bathroom is not quite as comfortable as accomplishing this task in his home bathroom. Mia’s teacher reported that when she tried to coax an anxious Jack to go in to the potty during outdoor recess, Mia not only volunteered to accompany him but patted his shoulder and sang songs as he tried to do what he was there to do.

And then his mom sent Mia’s mom this email:

Hi Mia’s mom,

This is Jack’s mom. Thank you for tagging me in the photos. I wish there were more, and [the teacher] promised that there will be more!

I think Mia might share with you today that Jack finally went poop in potty yesterday (Thank god!) The teacher told me that Mia went to say “Good job” to Jack. How sweet is she! But what I really want to thank Mia for was the fact that according to the teacher, Mia accompanied Jack earlier this week to teach him how to poop in the toilet in the washroom.  She also told him “good job” and “you can do it” and sang to him while he sat on the toilet (which he didn’t want to do at first). That’s like the sweetest thing I have heard! And I’m sure it wouldn’t be a surprise to you that when I asked Jack who would he like to sit with in the class, “MIA!” he said.

Thanks to Mia again for helping little Jack achieve his “poop” success.

Have a lovely day.

Warmest regards,

Jack’s mom

Little Mia’s apparent ability to empathize with Jack’s situation touched the hearts of all the “grown-ups” who observed it, and this is why I think that is so: Despite the terrifying problems of our current world situation, we understand that we can begin only as individuals to bring about meaningful change for the more than seven billion beings who share our planet. We can be hopeful, for at not-yet-three-years-old, Mia has learned enough about the world to realize that other people count, that connection is essential, that compassionate action—no matter how small scale—can make a difference in at least one person’s life.

In a recent blog, renowned author Anne Lamott reminded me of a most wonderful quote from Ram Dass, which now comes to mind as I smile and think of Mia’s compassion: “We are all just walking each other home.” This is emotional intelligence at its best—empathizing and connecting with others, reaching out to help each other with daily problems, giving a hand to help someone else get through the obstacle course that confronts us every day in whatever sphere we inhabit. What difference can you make in someone’s life today?