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[Xmca-l] Re: Question on Developing Empathy

Hi Yrjö and Mike,

I am really excited about this thread and want to point to another
interesting "socio-cultural niche" for this kind of work originated in
Canada in 1996 called *The Roots of Empathy,* a curriculum that  is slowly
catching on several other countries. In this program a baby and mother
visit a classroom once a month for the first year of the child’s life. This
relationship was chosen because as founder Mary Gordon believes “is best
example of emotional attunement there is which is why I chose it as a model
of empathy for children to experience’. She goes on to describe what
happens during the monthly sessions in a way that provides another
fascinating example of Vygotsky’s notion of a leading activity within the

 In Roots of Empathy, children become scientists who explore the inner
consciousness of a baby through a curriculum led by a certified instructor,
who guides them to describe what the baby is feeling and how the parent is
paying attention to the baby's needs. This powerful learning is then
extended outwards so children identify and reflect on their own thoughts
and feelings and those of others (empathy). For many children, this is the
only time where we actually attend to their emotional needs as well as
their academic development.   (Gordon, 2010, n.p.)

There have been several mixed method studies of the effects of this
curriculum over the last ten years in an ongoing longitudinal study that
show a decrease in aggression, and increase in emotional understanding and
care. These results certainly support the idea that perezhivanie can
certainly increase through leading activities. One of the most dramatic
stories comes from Gordon’s (2009) book.

*Darren was the oldest child I ever saw in a Roots of Empathy class. He was
in Grade 8 and had been held back twice. He was two years older than
everyone else and already starting to grow a beard. I knew his story: his
mother had been murdered in front of his eyes when he was four years old,
and he had lived in a succession of foster homes ever since. Darren looked
menacing because he wanted us to know he was tough: his head was shaved
except for a ponytail at the top and he had a tattoo on the back of his

*The instructor of the Roots of Empathy program was explaining to the class
about differences in temperament that day. She invited the young mother who
was visiting the class with Evan, her six-month-old baby, to share her
thoughts about her baby’s temperament. Joining in the discussion, the
mother told the class how Evan liked to face outwards when he was in the
Snugli and didn’t want to cuddle into her, and how she would have preferred
to have a more cuddly baby. As the class ended, the mother asked if anyone
wanted to try on the Snugli, which was green and trimmed with pink brocade.
To everyone’s surprise, Darren offered to try it, and as the other students
scrambled to get ready for lunch, he strapped it on. Then he asked if he
could put Evan in. The mother was a little apprehensive, but she handed him
the baby, and he put Evan in, facing towards his chest. That wise little
baby snuggled right in, and Darren took him into a quiet corner and rocked
back and forth with the baby in his arms for several minutes. Finally, he
came back to where the mother and the Roots of Empathy instructor were
waiting and he asked: “If nobody has ever loved you, do you think you could
still be a good father?” *( pp. 5–6)

Through this experience (perezhivanie?) Darren began to imagine himself
differently and perhaps he experienced a small shift in his sense of
personal agency. It would be interesting to follow up on Darren to see how
these learning experiences may have shaped his development. Like all areas
of development in Vygotsky’s work,. imagination, cognition and emotion all
unite with our own experience in ways that  break the crusts of the given.

Gordon, M.  (2009). *The roots of empathy : Changing the world child by
child. *New York: The Experiment Publishers.

Gordon, M. (2010, Feb. 18). 'Empathic Civilization': Building a New World
One Child at A Time. *Huffington Post*

                                  Retrieved from:

On Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 3:30 AM, "Engeström, Yrjö H M" <
yrjo.engestrom@helsinki.fi> wrote:

> Mike, I am completing a paper on vicious and expansive circles and their
> interplay. In your message below, the sentence marked in red is so much
> right on the money that I would like to use it as a motto in the paper
> (with the source appropriately acknowledged). Will you give permission?
> Take care,
> Yrjö
> On Mar 5, 2014, at 5:17 AM, mike cole wrote:
> > Hi Larry-- I still have not read John's paper. But at least dealing with
> > email I could not answer owing to local consequences of getting some of
> the
> > rain
> > we asked for.
> >
> > Firstly, here we have a clear case where John should be asked to join the
> > discussion. He is a long-admired colleague with whom we have far too
> little
> > interaction, speaking personally.
> >
> > So, here is a part of answering. Perhaps off topic. I hope not. I believe
> > that the principle of the retrospective construction of meaning is a
> > foundational part of the problem under discussion and fictive stories
> about
> > how cognition and emotion are a dance between the frontal lobe and the
> > limbic system. In so far as emotion is effected AT ALL by experience, it
> is
> > retrospective, and hence, constructive. the "tools" of that construction
> > are, in the aggregate, human culture.
> >
> > Cultural cognition is always, in principle, non-linear -- a sequences of
> > vicious circles and spirals of development.
> >
> > As a routine practice, I used to spend a lot of time with undergraduates
> at
> > a local housing project. There the students engaged in a variety of
> > mutually valued practices -- a hybrid idioculture-- and learned through
> > empathy. It was all about growing ourselves by participating in the
> > development of others.
> >
> > Finding socio-cultural-historical niches where such settings can be
> > sustained is quite a different matter. I am particularly interested in
> how
> > fragile and pre- occupying they are.
> >
> > mike
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > On Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 6:22 AM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> >> A further response to John Shotter's exploration on subjective/objective
> >> cuts as fluid dynamic wayfinding [orienting]
> >>
> >> John concludes the paper on agential realism on page 19 with a
> question, in
> >> which he is inviting our answer-ability. In re-stating this question on
> the
> >> theme of *empathy* I hope this concrete question may generate responses
> >> which are relevant for how we go on together.
> >>
> >> The last paragraph on page 19 in which he leads up to the question is
> >> re-stated:
> >>
> >> All this is quite revolutionary. Much of what we have taken as *basic*
> to
> >> our inquiries, e.g., the variables whose effects in social life we seek
> to
> >> understand, such as race, ethnicity, culture, age, social class;
> processes
> >> such as motivation, perception, cognition; things such as emotions,
> >> excuses, justifications, and so on, and so on, we come to realize are
> all,
> >> in fact, AFTER THE FACT outcomes of our inquiries. Further, when in
> >> cognitive neuroscience in particular we read such sentences as: "Empathy
> >> draws on these bodily and limbic shifts in a process called
> 'interoception'
> >> in which we perceive inward ... [where] interoception, interpretation,
> and
> >> attribution are the proposed steps of empathy carried out by the
> >> pre-frontal region [of the brain]"(Seigal, 2007, p.168) we must ASK
> >> OURSELVES whether anything in this account actually relates to
> phenomena in
> >> people's everyday activities we call empathic [Frankfurt, 1998]?
> >> Also, could we ever possibly apply these supposed 'elements' in actually
> >> helping someone deficient in empathy to come to SHOW empathy more in
> their
> >> daily practice, say, in nursing elderly patients - or is it the case
> that
> >> the empathic conduct of an everyday practice needs to be LEARNED by
> quite
> >> some other means than by building it up, piece by piece, from objective
> >> elements according to PRE-ESTABLISHED principles? To repeat the point
> made
> >> above, all these nominalized  'things' are FORESHADOWED in the very WAY
> in
> >> which we, prior to the conduct of our investigations, commit ourselves
> to a
> >> particular way of LOOKING AT the matter - "the decisive movement of the
> >> conjuring trick has been made," says Wittgenstein (1953), "and it was
> the
> >> very one that we thought quite innocent."
> >>
> >> I, at work in schools, ask similar questions about *developing* empathy
> and
> >> believe John Shotter in this article offers an answer which invites
> further
> >> commentary.  His central insight is that by enacting agential cuts AS
> >> performances we divide ourselves into ASPECTS which DO the sensing
> >> AND ASPECTS of ourselves that are subjected to what is sensed. In other
> >> words our *findings* cannot be taken AS *basic* but are actually
> developed
> >> WITHIN our practices
> >>
> >> John's conclusion is hermeneutical, inviting further answer-ability. I
> >> believe his questions and answers are relevant to *developing* empathy
> >> WITHIN our WAYS of orienting each in the other.
> >> Larry
> >>
Status: O