Character education is as much about other people as it is about the person being taught. One of the most important aspects of a good character education is empathy, or “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. The main purpose of character education is to make sure that someone can fit comfortably into a society made up of all sorts of different people and pursue success and happiness within it. Problems occur when someone is unsure how to behave in the appropriate way, or when they are actively causing harm to the people around them. Ideally, character education takes place in educational establishments like schools, colleges and universities, as well as in supportive home environments. However, parts of it can also be found in many popular hobbies.
This is great news if you are hoping to improve your own character or that of a friend or loved one, as there needn’t be any sense of pressure within the hobby’s environment. Instead, you can just get on with enjoying yourself and reap the extra benefits over time. So, let’s take a look at some of the best hobbies for fostering empathy.
Although reading is often thought of as a solitary activity, there is literally nothing better for giving you a peek inside somebody else’s head. Just think about it – whether you’re reading a fictional novel, an autobiography, a memoir or an historical account, you are reading about the experiences of other people. This act gives you unprecedented access to the feelings and thoughts of both the author and the subject or the characters of the book. Although they may sometimes differ from your own thoughts and feelings, you are prepared to hold space for them as you move through the text. This is an important skill when socialising with others in pretty much every circumstance imaginable. Therefore, it’s no wonder that those people who read more books find it easier to empathise with people in real life. The wider the breadth of your reading list, the more you will find yourself able to empathise with those different to yourself.
Whether playing as part of a team or alone, gaming can be another great way to foster empathy. Traditional games such as chess, poker and blackjack may seem competitive and combative but, in reality, it is vitally important to both respect and empathise with your opponents in these games if you want to win. Although many people play online rather than in person these days, with platforms such as Chess.com and PokerstarsCasino.com, it’s possible to play against other real people even in the virtual world. The growing success of esports teams and the approach they take to playing has led to a boom in cooperative play amongst video gamers on the whole. Several of the bestselling titles in gaming at the moment are either entirely based on cooperative play or have a well-developed multiplayer element to them. This encourages people to empathise with their teammates in order to work well together, and with their opponents in order to beat them.
Speaking of working together, team sports are a perfect example of how to supercharge your empathy using your favourite hobby. Whether you prefer football, hockey, cricket or running the relay, it really doesn’t matter so long as you are part of a team. In order to get the most out of your team, you must feel empathy for one another – this way, if somebody is having an off day, you’ll all know about it immediately and can execute a plan to support their role. Likewise, if somebody is playing at their peak, the team can make use of this and pass to them more frequently or give them a more prominent part in the game that day. Empathy is also of vital importance when you inevitably lose sometimes, as it allows you to support one another and behave graciously to the winning team. Likewise, having empathy for the losers when you do win will stand you in good stead for the future.
If sport is really not your thing, then perhaps you enjoy crafting instead. Joining a creative group, whether that be in person or online, is a great way to learn more about empathy. People from all walks of life enjoy being creative, and you’ll find that one of the most important things to remember when creative people come together is that you must approach each other with empathy. For example, if you don’t think that somebody else’s life drawing is very good, you might find yourself blurting that out during the end of class crit session. This could then hurt the artist in question or offend the model, driving a wedge between you and your group and engendering negative feelings. It can break the trust that is necessary when working together creatively. If you approached this situation with empathy, however, then you could appreciate that everyone’s idea of ‘good’ is different and find more constructive criticism to pass on, if you felt moved to.