Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Empathy and Excuses in Class

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Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

So I read about an exercise called Empathy and Excuses in this article and I decided to do a pair then full group activity to kick off my class last Thursday.

I asked students to pair up with someone different from them in some way (it turned a bit awkward but they managed) and to share stories of

  1. Something someone or some people do that annoys them
  2. Try to find excuses that would make you forgive them

Their stories were then shared with the whole class and we reacted to each other’s stories. Some, like poor parking, annoyed everyone, and excuses like “being in a hurry” or “doesn’t know how to drive well” came up. Some people bonded over shared things like height – apparently short people get treated quite strangely (e.g. Leaned on by strangers, or literally talked down to). There were also many cases of “we cannot think of a good excuse for that” but also situations where people told stories of how they eventually discovered things (e.g. Someone’s grandpa finally realized why some elderly people were noisy eaters because they had orthodontal thingies… Umm fake teeth). We also talked about how annoying it was when you were going through something tough and a friend’s response was to share their own suffering. We all sort of understand this to be a form of support, mirroring or such, or maybe even empathy, but it still annoyed us.

Strangely, even though the class was meant to promote empathy for the annoying people, it ended up helping us build empathy with each other about things that annoyed us – and we shared lots of funny stories and had fun.

Now the thing is, as much as I enjoyed this, the rest of the class was about empathy towards people who were really in crisis. We reflected on Lina Mounzer’s article on translating stories of Syrian women refugees and played two digital narrative games – Spent (about poverty) and BBC Syrian Journey (about Syrian refugees)..I find Lina’s article more touching and deep than these games, but for some reason, this particular group of students seemed really really into the game Spent. Many didn’t leave when class time was over. Some played it again. They made facial expressions and noises of distress when they had to make tough choices while role playing a poor person (most of my students are very privileged).

Anyway, I enjoyed the exercise but I’m gonna try next class to do the Liberating Structures exercise called Heard, Seen, Respected, for students to reflect in pairs on times they felt unheard, unrespected. And then we’ll reflect again on Lina Mounzer and more digital narrative games they would have played on their own over the weekend… And start imagining what kind of game they might develop themselves about a cause they care about.

Oh. One last thing. I got annoyed by how often the students asked a particular question about where to find links for things and after repeating it like 5 times, I told them I was getting frustrated. I should actually think of excuses and try to understand why they had trouble understanding this. Where was I unclear? Is putting a link in two different places confusing? Is something unclear about my instructions? Is someone having trouble hearing me because of a noisy person behind them? Is the font too small on the board?

Difficult to practice what you preach in the moment…

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