Monday, December 26, 2016

Can we learn resilience and empathy?

I've encountered many people who are psychologically fragile, breaking down after facing the slightest of stress. Some people get depressed after their first basic failure. It has became a problem now, as more and more people seemed to be more fragile than ever.

I've also met people who lack empathy. Not to be confused with pity of course. Empathy is often confused with pity, sympathy, and compassion, which are each reactions to the plight of others. Pity is a feeling of discomfort at the distress of one or more sentient beings, and often has paternalistic or condescending overtones.

Unfortunately, in my experience working in disaster relief and recovery, I've met many people preying on pity when they go about fundraising. Some volunteers and donations are also given out of pity, making the disaster survivors not only losing their physical possessions, but also their dignity.

As an entrepreneur, I've always been challenged the boundaries of what people do not think would be possible. Sometimes they are right, however, I would have to test some of my assumptions, and fail. In the process, I do learn a lot, and I understand the topic better.

I've been running Dreamity - Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for kids for years, and many people want me to do a "Social Entrepreneurship for kids". I've tried a simple workshop and found that many kids aged 8 - 12 today lack the ability to feel for others and mentally put themselves in their place. There are a lot of challenges to get them to innovate around donations and volunteerism as some of them were trained from young to do things and think a certain way.

After running the Bootcamp for a few years, I also realize that many of the kids do not have the ability to cope with failure. Some simply give up and NEVER want to try again, while others get really depressed.

Actually, I would say that even though the kids can't cope with failure, the feeling does not last, and as long as they want to learn, with proper guidance, they can grow to be more resilient.

It is possible to work on resilience. After reading a few papers by Garmezy, I learn the following. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are.

Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity

Empathy is also trainable. Through roleplaying and engagement with others, you can get to learn how others feel when an event happen. Without empathy, it is hard to find sustainable solutions. Sadly, these are life skills not taught in school, with no written exams, and parents do not put high priority, and as a result, countries like Singapore does see a fair share of suicides from exam stress.

I would like to work on some solutions and workshops for resilience and empathy and people to work on these important life skills from a young age.

If anyone would like to work on these, feel free to contact me.

-- Robin Low

By the way, my book, Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Why We Fail at Helping Others is out on the shelves now.

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