Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

Taking It Home: The Call for Empathy

I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me. — Terence, Roman playwright and freed slave

In Today's Workshop...

We examined the role empathy plays in social justice by looking at current immigration issues. We discussed yet another way that language influences how we think about justice and heard a true story about a group of Unitarian Universalists trying to fulfill the basic needs of Mexicans and Central Americans crossing the United States border.


  • Read the quote above. What does this mean? Do you think it shows empathy? This quote comes from a play written by a Roman named Terence. Terence came to Rome from Africa as a slave. His owner gave him an education and eventually freed him. Do you think Terence's life influenced him to be more empathetic?
  • Scientists recently discovered "mirror neurons", a brain system that may explain how we empathize. For example, research on brain activity shows that the same parts of the brain are activated when we watch someone pick up an object as when we pick up an object ourselves. Watch the video at the website for Nova's Science Now.
  • Even if human brains have a built-in capacity for empathy, it is an emotion that can be learned, too. Help encourage empathy and compassion in others by praising them when they show kindness. Keep a record of how many kind acts family members witness or perform. Read Practice Random Acts of Kindness: Bring More Peace, Love, and Compassion into the World (Newburyport, MA: Conari Press, 2007) or Kid's Random Acts of Kindness (Newburyport, MA: Conari Press, 1994) together.


  • Talk about what it feels like to "migrate" to a new situation. Whether that be a new neighborhood, school, book group, or job.
  • Are there new students at your school or new households in your neighborhood? Rally your family and friends to help welcome them. Tell them all the information you needed to know when you were new. (When is the trash picked up? What is the school mascot?) Invite new students to sit with you at lunch or school events. Invite neighbors over for a meal or to attend an event with your family.
  • Look at your family history of migration. Were your ancestors native to this country or did some of them migrate? Why did they migrate? Were their reasons different from why many Mexicans migrate today? What was their experience like? If they became legal citizens, what was required of them?
  • To read about some issues that youth who are immigrants face, read the Immigrant Youth Guide published by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center at California State Polytechnic Institute, Pomona.
  • Read a novel about immigration issues. Here are a couple of suggestions: Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (New York: Knopf, 2009) uses two narrators to explore different points of view about Mexican immigration; Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene and translated by Sarah Adams (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2004) takes place in France. (The United States is not the only country concerned about illegal immigration.)