I wrote the following speech for our June 2019, 8th grade recognition night. It’s not too often that one has the ear of hundreds of community members and students. It seemed like a great opportunity to share a positive message about kindness, and more importantly, of empathy. I wanted to thank NPR for setting the stage with their story on “The End of Empathy.”
Without further ado, here’s the speech:
WELCOME to the 8th grade Recognition night!
Dear Future Freshmen,
As you embark on this next chapter of your life remember that the most important thing you can do is to be kind. The second? Empathy—the ability to share someone else’s feelings—according to Webster’s Dictionary. I could talk all day about why kindness is vital to success, but I feel like kindness is all the rage right now. Instead, we’re going to take a walk with empathy. Why? Because empathy will open lines of communication, will teach you to think beyond yourself, teach you true compassion and understanding, and it will help you to better understand the world around you.
National Public Radio came out with a report this April entitled The End of Empathy. The author, Hanna Rosin, identified that the American culture has been losing their appetite for empathy in the past decade or so. And that by 2009 young people on average measured 40 percent less empathetic than a generation before them.
In the 70’s, empathy was the buzz word. The idea was that we had to start to see the world through each other’s eyes in the midst of the rise of nuclear weapons. Students in the 70s even wrote letters to pretend Russian pen pals to learn how to open their hearts to the enemy.
The article went on to point out that empathy exists today, but it is usually for the people on our team, people we agree with. It also pointed out that without empathy we would just be alone. Feel alone. Isolation. We could go down another rabbit hole that talks about how social isolation is detrimental to both your physical and mental health and well being. Instead, let’s create a goal together, shall we?
Goal: Choose to understand others rather than fear them or dislike them. Before criticizing others, try to imagine how you would feel in their place.
It makes your minds richer, it expands your imaginations.
You will never regret those actions for as long as you live.
Class of 2023, you are amazing. Do you know that? You have persevered through four different principals, you didn’t have a single referral in 5th grade and halfway through your 6th grade year. Your music teachers have expressed that you are one of the most musically talented groups they’ve ever had.
Go forward and continue to do great things. Things that will make you proud when you reflect back on your younger selves. Things you can brag to your own kids about. I beseech you to not only be kind but to be truly empathetic.