Empathy through systems thinking

Learning, as Barry Richmond asserted, engenders empathy

January 23, 2011

Over the last few days, participants on the K-12 System Dynamics list-serve (listserv@sysdyn.clexchange.org) have been writing and roiling and contending and speculating on the purpose of learning, all brought on because we have been wondering why some students learn, and some just don’t.  As we all looked at Barry Richmond’s model (OneThing18), we used it as a purposeful jumping off point to consider other aspects of learning.  I recalled that, one day at a workshop, Barry made it plain as day:  “The point of learning is to develop empathy.”

On one level, not all learning is about that.  I learned to tie my shoes for really one purpose, and to make my bed, and to put “JMJ” at the top of every homework assignment.  These were not about empathy, but about practical matters in my workaday world.  Over time, as I realized that more and more people experienced these same things, if not directly, at least in some diluted universal way.

So, yes, empathy might be it.  What’s cool is that I stumbled onto one of those RSAnimates videos about the new Empathic Civilization, a talk by Jeremy Rifkin.  Not sure if I buy all of it, but his contention that we’ve entered upon some important changes recently does strike a tone with me.  Maybe it will with you.

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