We’re working a lot on empathy at our house. Thinking and talking about how others feel. Considering the power and effect of words before we use them. Trying to understand someone else’s mood before approaching them. This issue just keeps on coming up.
I have caught myself wondering why this is so hard. Not only hard for my kids but hard for me as well. I go about my day with my agenda and desires and, when things don’t turn out how I thought they should, it was usually avoidable if I had used some empathy.
At our house this week we are getting ready for the holiday of Passover. During this holiday we retell the story of the Israelites enslavement in Egypt, the 10 plagues and the exodus from Egypt. Most people know that Jews don’t eat bread for the 7 or 8 days (its a geographic thing) of this holiday. We eat matzah – a thin, cardboard type substance that has been pressed into culinary versatility but is not actually good for much more than cream cheese and jelly and a bit of nostalgia.
Our kids have been learning, at home and at school, the stories we retell, the traditions and the rules. It’s an intense week of bringing food wherever you go, of deep thoughts, of constipation. We do not tell the story of what happened to “those people back then.” We tell the story using first person pronouns. “This is what happened to ME, when I went out of Egypt. This is how WE suffered, how we saved OUR children.”
As we clean and shop and talk, it occurred to me. This entire holiday is to teach empathy and gratitude. For kids and adults alike, we are instructed to spend a week eating like we were leaving Egypt ourselves. Gathering and retelling and imagining. Slavery, fear, faith and actions, all are told and retold in an effort to feel. We tell our children and each other: there are still people enslaved in the world, by law or by poverty or by bigotry. Feel that, so you will work to fix it.
As a parent I take comfort. My religion of nearly 6000 years understands that we need lessons in empathy repeatedly. If adults need this same ritual every year in order to renew our commitment to improving the world and helping those in need, it’s understandable that my children need these lessons repeatedly as well.
If it’s your holiday too, enjoy. And drink lots of water.