Six-year old Alex caught the attention of the nation when he wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to bring a young bombing victim to his suburban home. Alex assures the President that, “we’ll be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother.” We all could learn a thing or two from Alex.
A recent survey by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project reports “a large majority of youth across a wide spectrum of races, cultures, and classes appear to value aspects of personal success—achievement and happiness—over concern for others”. The authors found about 80% of students ranked high achievement or happiness as what was most important to them; a stark contrast to the approximate 20% who chose caring for others. The MCCP discovered a rhetoric/reality gap may be the root of the problem. Meaning, as parents, we might say all of the right things by stressing the importance of being empathetic, but fail to follow through and actually demonstrate how the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others are valued and respected, whether we agree with them or not.
Empathy is like a muscle, it functions best when stretched and exercised regularly. Camp gives kids the environment to do just that. Every two and four week camper draws for their crew on the first night of their first year and they become an Explorer, Mountaineer, or Tracker for life. Being on a crew gives campers the chance to work cohesively on a team for events like Crew Challenge, Field Day, and the Adventure Race. When it’s game time and competitive spirits are running high, it takes empathy to be able to realize how the other camper on his/her crew feels about missing the archery target or not making the soccer team for Field Day and to respond with kindness.
Many campers don’t have six to 11 brothers or sisters to share a room with either. Cabin life teaches campers to be respectful of others’ boundaries and to think outside of their own interests, whether it’s choosing a Cabin Night activity, giving someone else the chance to sit next to their counselor at lunch, or just listening to one another during daily Value Sessions. Flex your family’s empathy muscle by trying some of the follow Value Sessions at home!
WEB OF SUPPORT
Have your family sit in a circle; then give one person a ball of yarn. Ask that person to name one person who supports her or him and how. Then ask the camper to hold the end of the string and throw the rest of the ball to another person in the circle. The person who catches the ball of yarn should then name another person who supports her or him and how before holding an end of the yarn and throwing the ball to someone else. As the activity continues, a web that connects everyone will appear. Make sure that everyone gets to participate at least once.
- How many different types of people did we name (family, friends, neighbors)?
- Is it more important to you to have lots of different people who are somewhat supportive or just a few who are very supportive? Why?
- What attributes do supportive people have that are important to you?
- If someone you know seemed to need more support, how would you suggest that he or she find it?
HAVE YOU FILLED A BUCKET TODAY?
Show children the book and ask who has heard of it before. Ask: What might be bucket filling? What do you think the bucket stands for? Who might need to have their bucket filled? How might we fill buckets? Read the story Have You Filled a Bucket Today.
- Are you a bucket filler or a bucket dipper or both?
- Why might someone be a bucket dipper?
- How do you feel when your bucket is full? Empty?
- Why is it important to “fill people’s buckets”? How does it make you feel?
- How can we work together to fill each other’s buckets? What are specific things you can do?
Have everyone sit in a circle. Explain that each finger will be something that you share with the group.
- Thumb – Something you like about yourself (Thumbs up)
- Index – Direction you are headed (can be literal or figurative, point when explaining this finger)
- Middle – Something you don’t like about yourself
- Ring – Something that you are committed to (Like a ring)
- Pinky – A quirky fact
- How did it feel to share about yourself?
- Did you learn something new about someone else? Was any of it surprising?
- How did it feel to share what you don’t like about yourself? How can we help each other with things like this?
As we head into National Bullying Prevention Month, now is a great time to follow our friend Alex’s lead, spread a little understanding and flex those empathy muscles!