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Several months ago, I was shaken up but not shocked by a study I had read that morning.  The study showed that today's college students scored 40% less in empathy skills than their counterparts of 20 to 30 years ago.

40% less.

Growing up outside of New York City in the 60's and 70's, I was aware of the apathy of people.  There were horror stories of people who were victims of assaults, witnessed by those who couldn't be bothered to call for help.  As a child, I had a reoccurring nightmare where a stranger would grab me in full public view as I was dragged kicking and screaming for help that never came from the ongoing stares of the crowds passing by.  

But today's younger generation is displaying an elevated level of apathy and inability to show compassion and empathy.  I've talked to many who also read this study who were as equally disturbed as I.  And everyone was asking, "Why?"

One needs only to take a look at popular culture and the obsessive hands on parenting policies so many parents have adopted and this may not be rocket science.

Kids get elaborate graduation parties from KINDERGARTEN.  A child joins the soccer team and gets an automatic trophy.  Don't even get me started on high school graduation parties.  Here in hippy dippy Boulder, around the end of May, stretch limousines and grandiose parties that host over a hundred kids are common for the high schoolers who are made to feel like Noble Prize winners.

It is no wonder that so many of these kids are scoring lower in empathy skills.  They've been told since Day 1 how "special" they are.  Really?  How are these children any more special than any other child born on this planet on any given day?

If you can stomach it, take a day to watch the popular TV shows that so many kids love to watch.  If you have a teenager, you should know that there is a good chance they are more than familiar with Snooki and this is not a good thing.  "Calling people out for their shit" has become an elevated sport on these shows, the shows that make the Jerry Springer show look like Romper Room.

Rich housewives from parts all over the country who never learned to grow up proven by their continual displays of jealousy, competitiveness, cattiness and complete inability to empathize with even their closest friends are normalized by the reality show producers and the fans that give these women more than their 15 minutes of fame.

Lindsay Lohan, a sad example of the dangers of entitlement, showed that judge a thing or two with her FU boldly emblazed on the nails of both her middle fingers.  How dare that judge give Lindsay consequences for her actions, a practice so obsolete we may no longer need the word "consequences" in our modern day vocabulary.

Maybe a lot of parents think that having capacity for compassion and empathy is an autopilot kind of thing, something all babies are born with.  But this is not true.  For most children, they must be taught to be compassionate.  They must be guided by their parents to learn how to step into the shoes of another.

It wouldn't hurt full-blown grown ups to do the same thing.

A number of years ago I was in a coaching program in San Francisco.  I was in training to become a certified  "life coach" (an arrogant and offensive term).  The wise teachers spent the year sticking the nearest mirror in our faces.  They were more than familiar with the human tendency to want to take the log out of everyone else's eyes but our own.  

One afternoon, they gave us a practice.  They instructed us to take half an hour and go out into the streets of San Francisco and look into the eyes of every single stranger who passed us by.  We were to look at them and think to ourselves, "Like me, this person suffers.  Like me, this person experiences fear.  Like me, this person is going to age, get sick and eventually die."  

The assignment quite frankly repulsed me.  It sounded morose and depressing.  Did I really have to think about aging, illness and death?  Did I really have to think about my death and the death of every single person I encountered on the street?

But I did as I was told and on that cold foggy summer day, I looked into the eyes of the ones I did not know.  I looked at them and saw beyond the trendy city clothes, the hurried walks, and the eyes that avoided.  I could feel their underlying pain.  I could feel their worries, their struggles, and their deep wounds.

I was them and they were me and my heart was filled with love.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Angelcart wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • Very well written!   I agree with you 100%.  I do believe parents baby their children entirely too much.  My parents disciplined me very much.  I'm grateful to them and I too did not "baby" my son.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      003sharon wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • Good morning,

      I am not surprised about the results of that study. One may just stand in a crowd and observe the behavior of people, young and old and see the behavior of those with and those with-out compassion.
      I think you are right-on-target about the young people and the influence of what is being watched on TV. There may be something else boiling below the surface, the lack of compassion, greed and intolerance being modeled by the top 2 percent of our society. I think this has very sad affects on the entire population. I think it reflects poorly on every part of our daily lives. More and more money for me, me, me is not conducive to a healthy society. I am not referring to health as in just the obvious way of taking care of your body. I include the mental awareness, that only through collective efforts we will have what is best for all of us and not just the powerful few.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • I loved this blog. So well written, so to the point, so true! Thank you for bringing this to light.heart



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Jo46 wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • I enjoyed reading this so well written blog.  It is so true!  I actually talk to my 8 year old about empathy for others!  He gets it too!  It is never to early to learn empathy for others.



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Linda L wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • Great post Mary Kelly.  As an employee at an elementary school, it’s a daily battle to teach some students respect.  For some consequences don’t mean anything - hey, I get to sit in the office or in the hallway and more so if your suspended I get to stay home.  It’s sad that most of these children come from families who have not taught them right from wrong and the importance of respect.  Yes, the abundance of reality shows which trash people are not helpful. It depresses me when they tell me that mom/dad told me it’s OK to say stupid to someone or I was told to fight for myself so that’s why I did it.   Worst yet, some of us adults get a “shut up” or “go away, you‘re not the boss of me.”  I can go on and on.
      Of course, the good kids rule! But, sometimes the behaviors from children and adults makes me want to scream and not come back to work. I do return because it’s my job and I have compassion and can’t give up on them.
      I’m fortunate to have a beautiful daughter.  She’s the peacemaker - when amongst her friends or on-line, if someone is rude she will stop it.  I think I taught her compassion and empathy.

      Thanks for listening,
      Linda happy



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Nerissa wrote Aug 18, 2010
    • heart I can’t help but think, of a famous quote “do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee“. A very sad but true commentary on what is occuring in our society, in our world.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Denise Richardson wrote Aug 23, 2010
    • I totally agree with all that has been said here, great well written blog, thanks for the great observation of truth.hearthearthappyheart



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