Promote empathy and the practice of prosocial behavior

The success of a Community of Inquiry is dependent on its participants. Wikipedia uses the elephant and the blind men parable as useful metaphor for understanding a Community of Inquiry. When participants in the community,

share their experiences in a democratic and participatory manner they could arrive at a more comprehensive truth than their impoverished perspectives allow, isolated from each other.

Schertz writes that Communities of Inquiry are a peer-mediated environment that thrive on intersubjective communication with participants opinions, ideas and contributions shaping dialogue

…peer-mediation frees students from being forced to accept adult derived preconceptions of moral truth. The discourse is not limited by one perspective, the adult authority.

In addition to allowing students access to the perspectives of others, engaging in dialogue gives them practice in negotiating with these various perspectives or roles….

…roll taking is both a content driven and process oriented enterprise where members of the community are both learning to tolerate and value other subjectivities and practicing how to engage with other subjects who may hold radically different opinions.

According to Schertz , a Community of Inquiry helps participants mature by taking on roles and internalizing the process by focusing on emotions, compassion, positive social interaction and ethical inquiry. When the community is combined with ethical inquiry,

it can become a powerful means of providing moral education because ethical issues can be discussed within a social milieu that promotes empathy and the practice of prosocial behavior.

Finally, The Greater Good Science Center lists some of the best research-based practices for nurturing empathy in ourselves and others.

  • Focus your attention outwards: Being mindfully aware of your surroundings, especially the behaviors and expressions of other people, is crucial for empathy. Indeed, research suggests practicing mindfulness helps us take the perspectives of other people yet not feel overwhelmed when we encounter their negative emotions.
  • Get out of your own head: Research shows we can increase our own level of empathy by actively imagining what someone else might be experiencing.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about others: We feel less empathy when we assume that people suffering are somehow getting what they deserve.
  • Meditate: Neuroscience research by Richard Davidson and his colleagues suggests that meditation—specifically loving-kindness meditation, which focuses attention on concern for others—might increase the capacity for empathy among short-term and long-term meditators alike (though especially among long-time meditators).
  • Explore imaginary worlds: Research by Keith Oatley and colleagues has found that people who read fiction are more attuned to others’ emotions and intentions.
  • Play games: Neuroscience research suggests that when we compete against others, our brains are making a “mental model” of the other person’s thoughts and intentions.
  • Take lessons from babies: Mary Gordon’s Roots of Empathy program is designed to boost empathy by bringing babies into classrooms, stimulating children’s basic instincts to resonate with others’ emotions.
  • Combat inequality: Research has shown that attaining higher socioeconomic status diminishes empathy, perhaps because people of high SES have less of a need to connect with, rely on, or cooperate with others. As the gap widens between the haves and have-nots, we risk facing an empathy gap as well. This doesn’t mean money is evil, but if you have a lot of it, you might need to be more intentional about maintaining your own empathy toward others.

For more: The Ashoka Foundation’s Start Empathy initiative tracks educators’ best practices for teaching empathy. The initiative gave awards to 14 programs judged to do the best job ateducating for empathy.

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