We are all wired for empathy, we just have to learn how to connect the wires to make it work.”
Empathy is the ability to recognize, comprehend and appreciate the feelings of others. This is the skill that nowadays unfortunately is more like a treasure than a common thing to have. However, there is no surprise: empathy is one of the most important factors in fostering successful leaders, entrepreneurs, managers, and businesses. It reduces bullying, increases one’s capacity to forgive, and improves relationships and social connectedness. Empathy also enhances the quality of relationships, which is one of the most important of one’s needs. We all see now how empathy affects our everyday lives, all in all: empathy leads to a happier life. Since Denmark is the Earth’s happiest nation, they have supposedly figured out how to reach happiness. And they have quite a few tips to share!
You can say Denmark takes empathy seriously a one-hour long, weekly empathy-building activity is an obligatory part of the curriculum for all kids aged between 6 and 16 years. In the Danish school system there is a mandatory program named „Step by Step”. Teaching empathy in schools is a special thing which is highly appreciated in the country. Here, kids are shown pictures of other children demonstrating emotions, like happiness and anger. They are asked to put into words what the other person is feeling. This is a very effective way to teach children empathy, and also to read facial expressions. Danish parents continue the process by helping their kids to put themselves into another’s shoes.
Also, Danish parents try to think outside the box – in their case outside the always happy ended Disney movies. Read all kinds of stories to children, not only happy ones! Talking about difficult emotions in books can be a creative and amazing way to build empathy. Lots of Danish children’s books are different than the American standards with the topics they cover. In spite of that, studies showed that reading about all emotions increases a child’s ability to empathize. For instance, The Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Andersen is a Danish classic. We all know that at the end Ariel became a human and lived happily ever after with the love of her life. Well, according to the original story she doesn’t get the prince in the end, but she rather dies of sadness and turns into sea foam. This closing opens up a different kind of aspect of the story, and leads to a different discussion.
Danish children learn that being connected socially and empathetically to other people is just as important as securing a high grade on their exams. They carry this beyond the school walls into adulthood and their communities.