August 30, 2021
By: Jennifer Nelson
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“What we do now echoes in eternity.”
― Marcus Aurelius
I believe that it would be beneficial for educators to understand the needs of their students. This requires a level of awareness; and in some cases, some extra education. Yet I would like to challenge the paradigm a bit.
I was asked if I could raise awareness of one disability, what would it be. My response is that I would choose the disability of lacking empathy. Some would equate this to the diagnosis of sociopathy or psychopathy, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme.
Plenty of people lack empathy due to their own inner wounding, yet they are not carrying the diagnoses of a sociopath or psychopath.
I suggest that if we are to be understanding towards varying abilities, it is good to be aware of the type of impairment that would lead someone to lack understanding. That way we can evaluate ourselves to ensure we don’t fall into that category.
I feel that this is the best approach because we don’t need to pick and choose between who to have compassion for and who not to. There is no need to say that one condition is more important to learn about than another. Everyone deserves to be heard and understood no matter what their circumstances are. Therefore, if we understand the profile of sociopathic ideologies, then we might work hard to not fit that profile.
If we see a student behaving a certain way, we do not need a medical justification or approval to be understanding towards their needs. No one needs permission to be who they are. No one needs someone else to justify their existence.
Thinking otherwise is very controlling, robotic, and anti-human. In fact, “another common trait of psychopaths is that they are very controlling people in one way or another. They are constantly seeking power or control over others in work or personal contexts…” (Psychopaths as Control Freaks, n.d.).
Maybe it’s time to reframe how we approach our beliefs and interactions so that our intent to help others doesn’t become a method of control. We don’t want to imply that we need a medical authority to give us approval to be accommodating and understanding to our students.
It’s not “okay” to rock back and forth because you have autism, it’s okay to do that because that’s what you need to do, period. It’s not “okay” to need to move around because of a medical condition, it’s okay because that is how you as a human being function best.
How sad to believe that one needs permission and authoritarian oversight before showing compassion. Though we use labels to clarify and understand the world around us; seeing students as unique human beings as opposed to a diagnosis helps to create more harmonious environments.
A study found that “raising awareness of one disability (in this case Down syndrome) could lead to changes in attitudes towards disability in general” (Campbell, Gilmore, and Cuskelly, 2003). But the results didn’t stick, because the researchers found that “these attitudinal changes may be transitory, and may not be maintained once these first year teacher education students are confronted with difficult classroom experiences with children with a range of behavioural and learning difficulties” (Campbell, Gilmore, and Cuskelly ,2003).
Therefore, I am not sure that creating an academic exercise or a science experiment is the best way to cultivate a sense of empathy and respect for all life. In fact, in my opinion it is a very cold and sterile way to address a heart-felt process.
That cold sterility is why it is seen as a challenge to “educate future teachers in ways that promote and sustain understanding and acceptance of a range of disabilities, and provide them with the skills to support children with special needs in inclusive classroom settings” (Campbell, Gilmore, and Cuskelly, 2003).
The challenge is not in the task itself. The challenge is due to the thought process that leads to an implementation where it becomes about pathologizing people and repeating the concepts in order to pass a class; as opposed to actually cultivating a sense of compassion, empathy, and the desire to be of service to others.
Remember to love yourself and to always follow your inner guidance. Therefore, take what resonates and discard the rest.
Reynolds, C. (2012) Why are schools brainwashing our children? Macleans. https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-are-schools-brainwashing-our-children/
Ni, P. (2008, October 7 ) 7 Characteristics of a Modern Psychopath. Psychology Today.
Psychopaths as Control Freaks. (n.d.) Psychopaths in Life.
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