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The first duty of love is to listen. — Paul Tillich

To explore the experience of empathy is to understand more deeply the first Unitarian Universalist principle: the inherent worth and dignity of all people (and all beings.) The Merriam-Webster online dictionary's definition of "empathy" includes "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another." Empathy is the necessary action behind love, forgiveness, compassion and caring, and the driving forces of most good works in our world. Cures for disease, laws protecting the vulnerable, charitable contributions and even wars fought to end brutality, are examples of the results of empathy.

This session introduces empathy as a tool for discerning good and just action. It also guides children to recognize and respect multiple perspectives, and to understand that any given scenario can have multiple truths.

In this session the children will hear a Scottish folk tale about a seal hunter who wounds a seal and then is given a chance to experience this wounding from the seal's perspective. Following the story the children will have further opportunities to look at situations from multiple perspectives. They will also participate in an exercise of empathetic listening with their peers to learn one of the basic skills of empathy that can be practiced on a daily basis. As Kevin Ryan and Karen Bohlin wrote in Building Character in Schools (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, l999), "Such experiences (as gaining empathy through hearing the stories of others) encourage students to resolve in the quiet of their hearts to stand up for the threatened and the vulnerable."

The Faith in Action component of this session offers an activity for practicing empathy, justice, and goodness by card- or letter-writing to protect seals that are being hunted now. A longer-term Faith in Action project brings an awareness and/or fundraising project to the larger congregational community. In this session, the children add "Empathy" to the Moral Compass poster.


This session will:

  • Give participants an opportunity to share acts of goodness that they have done (or witnessed)
  • Provide a story and active experiences that demonstrate the meaning of the word "Empathy" and how empathy feels
  • Teach that an important part of acting out of goodness is to look at things from other perspectives besides one's own
  • Help participants learn to identify, respect and value the perspectives and experiences of others which differ from their own
  • Strengthen participants' connection to and sense of responsibility to their faith community

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Take pride in sharing acts of goodness and justice they have done (or witnessed) in the "Gems of Goodness" project
  • Hear and act out a story about how someone learns to see things from another perspective.
  • Learn to listen and speak empathetically
  • Participate in clean-up together
  • Optional: Practice using empathy as they write cards or letters to advocate protection of seals from hunting

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