In writing and researching UnSelfie, I flew the world, spoke with hundreds of researchers, conducted focus groups with more than five hundred children, and visited dozens of schools. I witnessed countless ways to cultivate empathy, but the most effective were always real, meaningful, and matched a child’s needs. Here are a few of the most creative ways adults around the world are making a difference in cultivating children’s empathy, creating an UnSelfie world and giving them the Empathy Advantage.
Empathy is always a “We” affair. A simple, overlooked way to increase empathy is by making the culture friendlier. Just being with people in a friendly setting can increase your empathy toward them and make you want to be kinder. The small South Pacific island of Vanuatu exemplifies that social premise. It’s called “the Friendliest Place on Earth” and after visiting their island, I can see why. Everywhere residents greeted you with a sincere hello and a smile and seemed genuinely interested in you. Their friendliness was contagious, so you responded right back with a hello and a smile to a stranger.
When I asked Vanuatu residents why they were so friendly, their answer was simple: “Because everyone else is.” Friendliness makes you tune in, observe emotional cues, be more receptive to others’ feelings and needs, and instead of walking by, you smile and acknowledge a person’s existence right back. But you don’t have to move your family to the South Pacific to gain that “friendly effect.” Just intentionally take friendliness up a notch in your home, school, and neighborhood; here are a few ways.