Transcript: Mary Gordon on Roots of Empathy | Feb 11, 2006

Mary Gordon stands on a stage giving a talk. She’s in her early forties with shoulder-length chestnut hair. She’s wearing a green shirt and a long black skirt.

Mary says WELL, GOOD
EVENING, EVERYBODY.
IT'S MY PLEASURE TO BE HERE
TONIGHT AND IT'S THE ESPECIALLY
IMPORTANT TO ME TO BE IN THE
FACULTY OF EDUCAON BECAUSE I
BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION IS WHERE
DEMOCRACY GROWS, AND I BELIEVE
THAT EVERY CLASSROOM IS A
MICROCOSM OF THE BROADER
SOCIETY--
AND THAT IF WE CAN BUILD
INCLUSIVE SOCIETIES IN THAT
CLASSROOM,
AND IF WE CAN PROVIDE VOICE FOR
EVERY CHILD,
AND IF WE CAN PROVIDE RESPECT,
WE CAN EXPECT, AND THAT'S JUST
WHAT WE'LL SEE LATER ON.
AND MY VIEW OF CHILDREN IS THAT
THEY ARE CHANGERS.
THEY ARE THE MOTORS FOR CHANGE.
I THINK WE'VE OVERLOOKED THE
BIGGEST POWER AMONGST US.
WE'VE HARNESSED THE POWER OF THE
SUN TO CREATE ENERGY.
WE'VE HARNESSED THE POWER OF THE
WIND TO CREATE ENERGY.
WE'VE HARNESSED THE POWER OF
WATER TO CREATE ENERGY.
BUT WE'VE OVERLOOKED THE
CHILDREN.

People in the audience listen carefully and take notes.

She continues AND I DON'T THINK THERE IS A
SOURCE OF MORE PALPABLE POWER
THAN OUR CHILDREN.
LOOK WHAT THEY DO TO US.
WE WILL GIVE UP OUR LIVES FOR
OUR CHILDREN.
WE WILL MOVE FROM OUR HOME
COUNTRIES TO A NEW LAND TO
PROVIDE THEM WITH OPPORTUNITIES,
AND ISN'T THAT EXACTLY WHAT
CANADA IS?
ISN'T IT THE MOST SUCCESSFUL
PLURALISTIC COUNTRY IN THE
WORLD?
ISN'T IT A MOSAIC, A CELEBRATION
OF CULTURES AND HISTORIES AND
TRADITIONS,
AND A BLENDING, AND A RESPECT
FOR ALL THOSE DIFFERENT VOICES.
AND I THINK WHAT'S SO WONDERFUL
ABOUT OUR PUBLIC EDUCATION
SYSTEM IN CANADA IS THAT WHEN
YOU HAVE PLURALISM IN YOUR
CLASSROOM, YOU HAVE MANY
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES PRESENTED
ON ISSUES, SO THAT YOU CAN SOLVE
PROBLEMS, LITTLE PROBLEMS, AT
THE CLASSROOM LEVEL,
INFLUENCED BY VERY MANY
DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS--
WHICH IS THE BUILDING OF A
STRONG, POWERFUL DEMOCRACY.
AND YOU KNOW, IT'S NOT LONG AGO
WHEN THE BERLIN WALL FELL.
AT THAT POINT IN OUR WORLD, A
THIRD OF THE COUNTRIES IN THE
WORLD WERE DEMOCRACIES,
AND NOW, TWO-THIRDS OF THE
COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD ARE
DEMOCRACIES.
SO SOMETIMES WE LOOK OUT AND WE
READ THE HEADLINES IN OUR PAPERS
AND WE'RE HORRIFIED AT THE
VIOLENCE WE SEE,
BUT I LIKE TO NOTICE THE
VIOLENCE WE HAVEN'T SEEN.
MOST OF THOSE COUNTRIES THAT
BECAME DEMOCRATIZED DID SO IN A
BLOODLESS WAY.
LOOK WHAT WE EXPECTED IN SOUTH
AFRICA.
AND LOOK WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
AND WE FAIL TO NOTICE THE THINGS
THAT DON'T HAPPEN.
YES, WITHOUT QUESTION, WE HAVE
AN INCREDIBLE OPTIC OF EMOTIONAL
INEPTITUDE IN THE WORLD.
WE HAVE A RANGE OF SOCIETAL
VIOLENCE, THE LIKES OF WHICH
WE'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
WE HAVE DRIVE-BY SHOOTINGS AND
NEW FORMS OF VIOLENCE THAT WERE,
ARE NEW, REALLY, TO HUMANKIND,
AND IN A SENSE, OUR HUMANITY HAS
TAKEN A BACKSEAT TO OUR
TECHNOLOGY.
THE TECHNOLOGY HAS GOTTEN OUT
THERE AHEAD OF US A LITTLE BIT.
AND I THINK THE CHILDREN WILL
GET IT BACK, I MEAN THE
CHILDREN--
THE CHILDREN REALLY ARE THE
MASTERS OF TECHNOLOGY, AND I
THINK VERY OFTEN BECAUSE OUR
CHILDREN HAVE SUCH A
SOPHISTICATED WAY OF SPEAKING
BECAUSE THEY SPEAK WITH THE
LANGUAGE OF TECHNOLOGY, WE MAKE
ALL SORTS OF ASSUMPTIONS THAT
THEY, TOO, ARE VERY
SOPHISTICATED?
WELL, IT'S NO QUESTION THE
LANDSCAPE OF CHILDHOOD HAS
CHANGED INCREDIBLY, BUT CHILDREN
HAVE NOT.
THAT LITTLE BABY SAMANTHA HAS
EXACTLY THE SAME NEEDS AS YOU
DID, AS YOUR BABIES DID, AND AS
FUTURE BABIES WILL.
CHILDREN ARE NOT MATURING
EMOTIONALLY AT ANY QUICKER RATE
THAN THEY WERE BEFORE.
YES, THEIR BODIES ARE MATURING
FASTER, AND THIS IS UNFORTUNATE,
AND THAT AGAIN IS THE RESULT OF
OUR WORLD GONE AWRY.
BUT CHILDREN AS EMOTIONAL
MATURATION HAS BEEN EVER THUS,
AND WE SHOULDN'T BE FOOLED BY
THEIR SOPHISTICATION OF LANGUAGE
AND EXPECT FROM THEM A LEVEL OF
MATURITY THAT IS BEYOND THEIR
GRASP.
CHILDREN STILL NEED
RELATIONSHIP.
THEY STILL NEED A PREDICTABLE
WORLD.
THEY STILL NEED RELATIONSHIPS
THAT THEY CAN COUNT ON--
RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE
PREDICTABLE.
AND I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE
WHOLE BIG THING EVERYBODY ANGSTS
ABOUT IN TERMS OF BEING
PREDICTABLE, AND--
IN YOUR DISCIPLINING OF
CHILDREN, I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT
THAT.
I'M TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN
KNOWING THEY CAN COUNT ON
SOMEONE BEING THERE FOR THEM.
AND THAT HAS CHANGED, TOO.
IT USED TO TAKE ONE PARENT
WORKING TO SUPPORT A FAMILY, AND
NOW IT TAKES TWO.
SO THIS IS NOT ABOUT
MOTHER-BASHING.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Mary Gordon."

Mary continues THIS IS NOT
ABOUT, "OH MY GOODNESS, WE'RE
GOING TO HELL IN A BASKET."
WE HAVE A WONDERFUL WORLD BUT I
THINK WE HAVE TO TIGHTEN THE
PURSE STRINGS A LITTLE BIT.
WE HAVE TO LOOK AT WHAT'S REALLY
IMPORTANT.

The caption changes to "Author ‘Roots of Empathy; Changing the World Child by Child’. University of Western Ontario. November 17, 2005."

Mary continues AND, WITHOUT
QUESTION, OUR CHILDREN ARE
REALLY IMPORTANT.
AND IN MY LIFE I'VE BEEN VERY
LUCKY IN THAT I HAVE HAD MANY
KINDS OF ITERATIONS.
I STARTED OUT AS A CLASSROOM
TEACHER BECAUSE I BELIEVED THAT
IF I WANTED TO DO ANYTHING OF
ANY ACCOUNT, I WANTED TO MAKE A
DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN.
SO I STARTED TEACHING THE
YOUNGEST CHILDREN.
WE KNEW NOTHING ABOUT
NEUROSCIENCE IN THOSE DAYS.
I'LL WHISPER TO YOU WHAT YEAR IT
WAS BUT DON'T BE TELLING ANYONE.

[Laughter]

Mary continues 1969--
I TAUGHT MY FIRST KINDERGARTEN.
AND I TAUGHT JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN
AND SENIOR KINDERGARTEN.
SO I HAD CHILDREN WHO WERE
COMING IN--
SOME OF THEM WERE GOING TO TURN
FOUR BY THE END OF DECEMBER--
THAT'S HOW OLD THEY WERE, THEY
WERE BABIES.
THERE WAS ONE LITTLE GIRL, SUZY,
I WORE ON MY HIP FOR THE WHOLE
YEAR.
SUZY WAS A PREEMIE BABY AND SHE
WAS JUST CATCHING UP TO HERSELF.
AND I CAN TELL YOU, IT TOOK ME
THREE DAYS TO COME TO THE
CRASHING REALIZATION THAT IT
WASN'T UP TO ME TO MAKE THOSE
LITTLE ONES' LIVES GREAT.
IT TOOK ME THREE DAYS, A
HUMILIATING SMASH ON THE GROUND,
REALIZING IN MY YOUTHFUL
ARROGANCE THAT I COULDN'T DO
WHAT I THOUGHT I COULD DO,
THAT THESE CHILDREN SPOKE OF
NOTHING AND NOBODY BUT THEIR
FAMILIES.
THEY ADORED THEIR FAMILIES.
THEIR WHOLE EXISTENCE WAS IN THE
ORBIT OF THE FAMILY.
SO, IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, JOIN
'EM.
She smiles and continues SO I DECIDED TO THROW MY LOT IN
WITH THE PARENTS, CONFESS THAT I
HAD A FANCY EDUCATION AND HAD
NOT A SWEET CLUE WHAT I WAS
DOING.
AND ASKED THE PARENTS, WHO
REALLY WERE THE GODS TO THE
CHILDREN, IF THEY WOULD HELP ME.
AND HELP ME, THEY DID.
AND I LEARNED FROM THOSE
FAMILIES.
I LEARNED ABOUT LOVE.
I LEARNED ABOUT THE POWER OF
RELATIONSHIP.
I LEARNED THAT CHILDREN LEARN
THROUGH A RELATIONSHIP, AND I
LEARNED THAT CHILDREN LEARN HOW
TO LEARN THROUGH THE PRIMARY
RELATIONSHIPS IN THEIR LIVES.
I LEARNED THAT, YES, I COULD
TEACH THEM ANYTHING ABOUT
READING, BUT I COULDN'T TEACH
THEM TO WANT TO READ.
THE ATTITUDE, WHICH IS MORE
IMPORTANT THAN THE SKILLS SET,
COMES THROUGH LOVE.
AND CHILDREN ARE LOVED INTO
LEARNING, AND THEY ARE LOVED
INTO READING.
AND THEY ARE LOVED INTO
BELIEVING THAT THEY ARE CAPABLE.
SO, OUT OF THAT SITUATION, I
REALIZED THE INCREDIBLE
INJUSTICE WITH WHICH CHILDREN
PRESENT THEMSELVES TO SCHOOL.
YOU KNOW, ON THE FIRST DAY, YOU
COULD SEE THE CHILDREN WHO HAD
SUCCESS STAMPED ON THEIR
FOREHEAD.
AND YOU COULD SEE THE LITTLE
ONES WHO WERE STRUGGLING, WHO
WERE VERY, VERY SHY, OR VERY,
VERY AGGRESSIVE BUT HAVING
DIFFICULTY FITTING IN.
IT SEEMS SO INCREDIBLY UNFAIR TO
ME--
WHAT COULD'VE HAPPENED IN THREE
OR FOUR YEARS THAT WOULD MAKE
ONE CHILD SO CONFIDENT, SO
HAPPY, SO SKILLED, AND ANOTHER
CHILD SO UNSURE, AND SO FRAGILE
AND VULNERABLE.
HOW COULD THAT BE?
SO I SET UP PARENTING AND FAMILY
LITERACY CENTRES BECAUSE I
BELIEVED THAT PARENTS WERE THE
MOST IMPORTANT TEACHERS IN THE
WORLD.
AND THESE PARENTING AND FAMILY
LITERACY CENTRES INVITED
FAMILIES AND WE SAID, THE SCHOOL
WAS THEIR HUB.
HOW CAN WE BE HELPFUL?
WHAT CAN WE DO?
NOW THIS WAS 1981, AND IN THOSE
DAYS, THE APPROACH WAS YOU
IDENTIFY EVERYONE'S PROBLEMS AND
THEN YOU ARROGANTLY GO ABOUT
SORTING THEM OUT AND TELLING
THEM HOW TO BE EXACTLY LIKE YOU.
SO, CLEARLY, THAT NEVER WORKED
VERY WELL.
BUT AGAIN, RECOGNIZING THE
IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY, IN THESE
CENTRES, MY APPROACH TO OUTREACH
WAS AN EMPATHIC APPROACH.
I'LL PUT MYSELF IN THE SHOES OF
THE PERSON I WAS TRYING TO
CONNECT WITH.
SO THAT IF I WAS TRYING TO
INVITE A TEENAGE MOM TO COME TO
A PARENTING CENTRE, I HAD TO
FIGURE OUT HOW I COULD MEET HER
ON HER GROUNDS.
SO I'D BORROWED A BABY, AND I
WORE THE BABY.
AND I WOULD GO TO THE CROSSWALK
ON PARLIAMENT AND GERRARD, WHICH
WAS FILLED WITH TRACKS.
AND IF YOU WERE A YOUNG MOM AND
YOU'D JUST GOTTEN YOUR--
IN THOSE DAYS, WE HAD BABY BONUS
CHECKS--
YOU'D JUST GOTTEN A BABY BONUS
CHECK, YOU WERE OUT TO GET YOUR
FRIES AND YOUR COKE...
TO DO LAUNDRY 'CAUSE YOU FINALLY
HAD SOME MONEY TO DO YOUR
LAUNDRY, AND TO BUY SOME
GROCERIES.
SO I USED TO MEET THE MOMS THERE
ON THE CORNER, YOU COULD SEE
THEM COMING IN THEIR YOUTH.
WITH MY POLAROID CAMERA, I'D
SAY, "WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TAKE
A PICTURE OF YOUR BABY?"
WELL, YOU KNOW, THERE IS THE
INJUSTICE OF IT.
CAN YOU IMAGINE NOT HAVING A
PICTURE OF YOUR BABY?
WELL, IF YOU WERE A TEENAGE MOM,
YOU WON'T HAVE A PICTURE OF YOUR
BABY, MAYBE.
SO THEN I'D SAY TO THE MOM--
WE'D DEVELOP IT ON THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE STREET, I'D SAY,
"YOU KNOW, IF YOU'D LIKE ME TO
TAKE ANOTHER ONE, I WILL BLOW IT
UP.
AND IF YOU WANNA GO OVER TO THAT
SCHOOL ON MONDAY MORNING, I'LL
GIVE IT TO YOU."
BAIT AND SWITCH, SORT OF.
[Laughter]
Mary continues BUT THE IDEA WAS
TO FIND OUT WHERE PEOPLE WERE,
WHAT THEY WERE THINKING AND
FEELING, AND TO MEET THEM THERE.
AND IT HAS NEVER
FAILED ME.
SO FROM THAT EXPERIENCE I
LEARNED A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT FROM
THE VULNERABILITY OF THE YOUNG
PARENTS.
I LEARNED A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT
FROM THE PORTUGUESE GRANNIES IN
ANOTHER CENTRE, WHO WERE
INCREDIBLY PATIENT AND LOVING
WITH THEIR GRANDCHILDREN.
WHO HAD AN
INCREDIBLY DEDICATED ETHIC OF
WORK--
BUT WHO DIDN'T PLAY WITH THE
CHILDREN.
AND IT WAS A GIVE-AND-TAKE
AGAIN.
WITH THE PORTUGUESE GRANNIES, WE
WERE BARGAINING OVER OPENING
THE SANDBOX AND TAKING THE LIDS
OFF THE PAINT.
WITH THE TEENAGE MOMS, WE WERE
BARGAINING WITH PUTTING ONE
SLICE OF BROWN BREAD WITH THE
WHITE AND TRYING A BIT OF SALAD.
THE CONVERSATIONS WITH THE
GRANNIES WERE ABOUT ARTHRITIS,
WITH THE TEENAGE MOMS, IT WAS
SEX.
SO EVERYBODY WAS RAISING
CHILDREN NOW, AND EVERYBODY WAS
TRYING TO DO THE BEST JOB THEY
COULD.
I WORKED A GREAT DEAL IN THAT
SETTING.
WITH CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT, I
WORKED A GREAT DEAL WITH
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND I HAVE TO
TELL YOU THE PAIN AND SUFFERING,
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR WAS THE
ABSENCE OF EMPATHY.
SO I TELL YOU THIS BY WAY OF
SAYING WHY WAS ROOTS OF EMPATHY
NECESSARY TO ME?
WHY HAVE I GONE BACK TO SCHOOL?
WHY HAVE I GONE BACK TO THE
CLASSROOM?
IT'S BECAUSE I BELIEVE, IF WE
ARE EVER TO BREAK THE
INTER-GENERATIONAL CYCLE OF
VIOLENCE AND POOR PARENTING, WE
MUST START WITH CHILDREN.
I'VE STARTED ALL THE DIFFERENT
WAYS AND I'M NOT SAYING IT'S ONE
OR THE OTHER.
IT'S ALL OF THEM,
BUT IF WE DON'T START WITH THE
CHILDREN, THE COMMUNITY OF A
CLASSROOM--
CAN YOU IMAGINE 25 CHILDREN
BEING TOGETHER ALL DAY EVERYDAY
FOR A WHOLE YEAR WITH ONE
PERSON WHO LOOKS AFTER THEM AND
CARES FOR THEM AND UNDERSTAND
THEIR NEEDS.
THAT'S A POWERFUL UNIT OF
CHANGE.
SO THAT'S WHY THE CLASSROOM, IN
A SEMINAL MOMENT WHICH MADE ME
REALIZE WHY I HAD TO DO
SOMETHING DIFFERENT--
AND I SPEAK OF THIS IN THE
BOOK--
WAS WHEN I WENT TO VISIT A
TEENAGE MOM WHO HADN'T SHOWN UP
AT THE PROGRAM FOR A WHILE, AND
I WAS AWARE THAT SHE WAS LIVING
WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
AND I KNEW THAT THERE WAS ABUSE
IN THE PAST.
I USED TO CHANGE BABIES' DIAPERS
ALL THE TIME WHEN I WORKED WITH
YOUNG MOMS JUST TO MAKE SURE THE
BABIES HADN'T BEEN ABUSED.
AND ONE OF HER LITTLE ONES HAD
THE LETTER 8 BURNED IN THE
BUTTOCKS WITH CIGARETTES.
SO I WENT TO VISIT THIS YOUNG
MOM, AND SHE OPENED THE DOOR AND
SHE HAD THE ONE LITTLE BABY IN
HER ARMS, AND THE OTHER LITTLE
ONE HANGING ONTO HER LEG.
AND THE FIRST WORDS OUT OF HER
MOUTH WAS, "MAR, HE DIDN'T MEAN
IT.
HE LOVES ME.
HE'LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN.
HE EVEN CRIED."
Mary touches her right eyebrow and continues SHE'D BEEN BEATEN UP AND SHE WAS
CUT.
SO--
TO ME, THAT WAS A PICTURE OF
DESPAIR.
THIS WAS A YOUNG WOMAN WHO LOVED
HER CHILDREN DEARLY.
THIS WAS A YOUNG WOMAN WHO HAD
BEEN RAPED IN CHILDHOOD, WHO HAD
BEEN ABUSED BY THE PEOPLE WHO
LOVED HER BEST.
SO HOW ARE WE GOING TO PROTECT
HER TWO LITTLE ONES?
SO THAT'S WHEN I STARTED TO
FORMULATE THE IDEA OF USING THE
LOVE BOND OF A PARENT AND A
BABY TO HELP US FIND THE
HUMANITY IN ONE ANOTHER.
BECAUSE THERE'S NOT A MORE
BEAUTIFUL SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP
UNDER THE STARS.
YOU CAN'T FIND A BETTER EXAMPLE
OF EMPATHY.
BUT IF A PERSON, THEIR
EXPERIENCES, THEIR EARLY
EXPERIENCES, ISN'T TREATED
EMPATHICALLY, ISN'T LOVED,
DOESN'T HAVE A SENSE OF
MUTUALITY WITH LOVE--
EMPATHY CAN WITHER ON THE VINE.
AND ALL BABIES ARE BORN
EMPATHIC.
YOU KNOW, THE RESEARCH SAYS IF
YOU PLAY A TAPE OF A CRYING
BABY, A BABY WILL CRY TO THAT
TAPE.
BUT THEY DON'T NECESSARILY CRY
TO THEIR OWN TAPE.
SO IT CAN DISAPPEAR, AND I CAN
TELL YOU, OUR JAILS ARE FULL OF
PEOPLE RUNNING LOW ON EMPATHY.
I'LL GIVE YOU ONE EXAMPLE OF HOW
INCREDIBLY EMPATHIC AND
COURAGEOUS YOUR CHILDREN CAN BE.
THIS IS A CANADIAN EXAMPLE.
TWO LITTLE GIRLS, BEST FRIENDS
IN GRADE FOUR.
THE ONE LITTLE GIRL IS IN A
FOSTER CARE SITUATION AND HER
RUNNING SHOES ARE VELCRO, NOT
THE LACE-UPS.
AND, YOU KNOW, IT'S IMPORTANT
THAT YOU HAVE THE RIGHT SHOES
WHEN YOU GET TO BE A CERTAIN
AGE.
AND THE CHILDREN WERE TEASING
THIS LITTLE GIRL, AND THEY SAID,
"YOU'VE GOT GEEKY, BABYISH
RUNNING SHOES."
WELL, YOU KNOW THERE'S NOTHING
WORSE THAT BEING CALLED BABYISH
WHEN YOU'RE NINE?
YOU'RE STRUGGLING TO BE
SOPHISTICATED.
SO HER BEST FRIEND THOUGHT ABOUT
THAT, AND WHEN RECESS TIME CAME,
THE BEST FRIEND SAID VERY
QUIETLY AND SIMPLY, "MAY I WEAR
ONE OF YOUR RUNNING SHOES?"
NOW I THINK THAT LITTLE GIRL WAS
A HERO.
I DON'T THINK I COULD'VE COME UP
WITH ANYTHING SO CLEVER AND
SUBTLE AND DEEP.
BUT THAT LITTLE GIRL'S ACTIONS,
TO ME, WERE NO DIFFERENT FROM
WORLD WAR II EUROPE, WHEN JEWS
WERE TOLD TO WEAR THE STAR OF
DAVID ON THEIR SLEEVE.
AND DIDN'T PRIVATE CITIZENS COME
OUT IN SOLIDARITY, NON-JEWS WITH
THE STAR OF DAVID ON THEIR
SLEEVES.
HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT?
THAT LITTLE GIRL SAID, "IF YOU
ARE MEAN TO MY FRIEND, YOU'RE
MEAN TO ME."
AND THAT IS THE
ROOTS OF
EMPATHY
MESSAGE.
IT'S ABOUT
TAKING THE ONLOOKERS AND THE
BYSTANDERS AND BUILDING
SOLIDARITY AND COMPASSION SO
THAT THE CHILDREN UNDERSTAND.
IF YOU SEE CRUELTY, MEANNESS,
BULLYING, AND YOU DO NOTHING,
YOU CONDONE IT.
YOU ARE GUILTY AS CHARGED.
SO THAT THAT'S
NOT THE TEACHERS WHO STAND UP
AND SAY, THAT WASN'T RIGHT,
APOLOGIZE, OR TAKE THAT BACK, OR
DON'T DO THAT.
IT'S THE CHILDREN.
THE CLASSROOM'S A UNIT OF CHANGE
AND THE CHILDREN ARE WITHIN THAT
CLASSROOM, POWERFUL CHANGERS.
THEY ARE FOOT SOLDIERS OF SOCIAL
JUSTICE.
WARRIORS FOR THE RIGHTS AND
ENTITLEMENT OF EVERY CHILD.
AND THEY DO IT SIMPLY AND
QUIETLY, NOT LOOKING FOR
ATTENTION, AND THERE ARE MANY,
MANY EXAMPLES LIKE THAT THAT
I'VE SHARED IN THE BOOK,
ABOUT THE HEROISM OF CHILDREN,
ABOUT CHILDREN AS BEING THE
ENGINE AND THE MOTOR OF CHANGE.
SO, I'M GOING TO PUT ON SOME OF
THE CHILDREN'S ARTWORK TO SHARE
WITH YOU.
THAT'S JUST TO SET THE SCENE OF
WHAT THE ACTUAL PROGRAM IS LIKE.
THE BOOK,
ROOTS OF EMPATHY,
IS MORE THAN THE PROGRAM.
IT'S THE NEED FOR EMPATHY IN OUR
WORLD.
IT'S THE IDEA THAT, IF WE CANNOT
FIND THE HUMANITY IN ONE
ANOTHER, WE WILL NEVER SOLVE THE
WORLD'S PROBLEMS.
HOW IS IT THAT WE ARE ABLE TO
RESPOND SO QUICKLY AND
GENEROUSLY AND SO EMPATHICALLY
TO TSUNAMIS AND EARTHQUAKES, BUT
AIDS IN AFRICA, WE DON'T SHOW UP
FOR THAT.
IS IT MAYBE BECAUSE WE DON'T
IDENTIFY IN THE SAME WAY?
IS THERE A VENEER OF BLAME OR
SHAME?
WHAT IS IT?
POSSIBLY, IS IT THE ENORMITY OF
THEE PROBLEM, WHERE DO YOU START?
BUT NERALLY SPEAKING, IN
CHILDHOOD, YOU'RE PUNISHED FOR
BEING DIFFERENT.
I WAS AT A CONFERENCE THIS
MORNING, ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE
PREVENTION.
AND THERE WAS A WOMAN WITH
BEAUTIFULLY CURLY RED HAIR.
AND I SAID, "IT'S REAL, ISN'T
IT?"
AND SHE SAID, "YES.
I'M FINALLY ENJOYING IT."
I SAID, "WERE YOU PERSECUTED ALL
YOUR CHILDHOOD?"
"NOT NEARLY AS MUCH AS MY
BROTHER," SAID SHE.

[Laughter]

Mary continues SO TO STAND OUT
WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG, WHETHER IT'S
GEEKY, BABYISH SHOES, OR WHETHER
IT'S IMMUTABLE DIFFERENCES OF
COLOUR, OR WHETHER IT'S THE
COLOUR OF YOUR HAIR OR EVEN
MAYBE YOU STAND OUT BECAUSE
YOU'RE A WONDERFUL ATHLETE AND
VERY HANDSOME, AND YOU MAKE
PEOPLE JEALOUS.
TO BE VERY DIFFERENT IS TO BE
VULNERABLE AND CRITICIZED AND
MARGINALIZED.
IN THE BROADER WORLD, PEOPLE WHO
WE CONSIDER DIFFERENT WE TEND TO
MARGINALIZE.
AND 'RE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD
OF THE WORLD.
AND THE
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
PROGRAM, WHICH IS VERY HIGHLY
RESEARCHED--
ONE OF THE MEASURES THEY DID WAS
TO ASK THE CHILDREN IN GRADE 4
TO 6 TO DRAW CIRCLES AROUND
THEIR CLASSMATE'S NAME--
THEY WERE GIVEN A WHOLE SHEET OF
THE CLASATES' NAMES,
AND THIS WAS ANOMOUS--
ABOUT THE CHILDREN YOU FELT THAT
YOU COULD BE GOOFRIENDS WITH.
AND THEY DID IT WITH A
COMPARISON CLASS AS WELL.
AND THEN AT THE END OF THE YEAR,
THEY DID THE SAME MEASURE AGAIN.
AND, AT THE BEGINNING OF THE
YEAR, THE
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
CLASS AND THE COMPARISON CLASS
CIRCLED ABOUT A THIRD OF THE
CLASS, BUT AT THE END OF THE
YEAR, STL, A THIRD OF THE
CLASS FOR THE COMPARISON,
DIFFERENT CHILDREN'S NAMES BUT
ABT A THIRD.
ROOTS OF EMPATHY,
TWO-THIRDS.
NOW THAT TELLS YOU SOMHING
THAT CHILDREN WERE ABLE TO FIND
IN THEIR HEARTS' CONNECTION.
THEY COULD FIND W THEY WERE
THE SAME--
BECAUSE WE ARE THE SAME THROUGH
OUR FEELINGS.
IF WE ARE TO LOOK AT OUR
DIFFERENCES, AND ONLY SEE
DIFFERENCES, WE'LL NEVER FIND
OUR HUMANITY.
BUT IN OUR FEELINGS, WE ARE THE
ONE.
SO LET ME SHOW YOU A FEW OF THE
PICTURES OF THE CHILDREN.

She approaches a lectern and runs a PowerPoint presentation. A slide reads "Johnny has 3 apples. If Amélie takes 2 apples, how will Johnny feel?"

She continues THIS IS A TYPICAL QUESTION WE
ASK IN SCHOOLS.
JOHNNY HAS THREE APPLES, WE
TYPICALLY ASK, AND AMELIA TAKES
TWO.
HERE'S THE
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
QUESTION.
BECAUSE HOW JOHNNY FEELS
DETERMINES EXACTLY HOW JOHNNY IS
GONNA LEARN THAT DAY.
THAT'S WHY WE HAVE AN EMOTIONAL
BAROMETER IN SOME OF OUR
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
CLASSES.
WHY DO WE NEED EMPATHY?
NOT ONLY IS IT THE KEY TO SOCIAL
COMPETENCE, IT'S THE KEY TO
EVERY RELATIONSHIP IN LIFE.
IT'S DEFINITELY RELATED TO
ACADEMIC FUNCTIONING.

A new slide shows a bulleted list under the title "Why promote empathy in children." The list reads "Central to competent parenting. Key to successful relationships in life. Critical in resisting aggressive behaviours. Recognized as key to social competence. Crucial to personal and academic functioning."

She continues HERE IS HOW WE TEACH
NEUROSCIENCE.
PEOPLE LAUGH BECAUSE THEY CAN'T
IMAGINE THAT LITTLE CHILDREN
LEARN NEUROSCIENCE, BUT THE
LITTLE CHILDREN LEARN HOW BABIES
LEARN.

A slide under the title "The 6 strands of human connection. Neuroscience." appears. It shows a picture of a female teacher holding a poster and a little girl drawing a human brain on it.

She continues AND IN THE MIX, THEY LEARN HOW
THEY LEARN.
YOU'LL OFTEN HEAR CHILDREN
SNAPPING THEIR FINGERS, IT'S
BECAUSE THEY'RE SAYING SSS-
SYNAPTIC CONNECTIONS ARE
HAPPENING IN THE BABY'S BRAIN.
HERE, YOU CAN SEE A PICTURE OF
HOW WE TEACH THE CHILDREN THAT
EVERY BABY SEES THE WORLD
DIFFERENTLY.

A picture features a woman holding a little girl crying.

She continues THAT WE HAVE TEMPERAMENT TRAITS
THAT ARE NOT OUR CREDIT OR OUR
FAULT, THAT WE JUST WEE THE
WORLD DIFFERENTLY.
THE IDEA OF ATTACHMENT AND
ATTUNEMENT.
IF YOU HAVE
NEVER HAD A LOVING
RELATIONSHIP--
IF, FOR EXAMPLE, THE ONE BOY
WHO SAW HIS MOTHER MURDERED
WHEN HE WAS FOUR YEARS OF AGE,
AND THIS YOUNG BOY, WHEN HE
FOUND OUT
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
WAS COMING TO HIS CLASSROOM--
HE'D BEEN IN MANY, MANY FOSTER
CARE SITUATION, HE WAS NOW IN A
GRADE 7 AND 8 CLASS IN TORONTO--
HE BOUGHT A CALENDAR AT THE
DOLLAR STORE, SO HE WOULD BE
SURE NOT TO BE PLAYING HOOKY ON
THE
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
DAYS.
AND THE DAY I
VISITED, THEY'D BEEN TALKING
ABOUT TEMPERAMENT.
AND THE MOM SAID SHE WAS SO
DISAPPOINTED THAT SHE DIDN'T GET
A BABY THAT WAS CUDDLY AND SHE
COULD DRESS UP AND SHOW OFF.
SHE GOT A LITTLE GIRL WHO WAS
QUITE INDEPENDENT, WHO LIKED TO
LOOK OUT AT THE WORLD FROM HER
SNUGLY, NOT TO CUDDLE IN.
THEN THE BELL WENT.
AND THE MOM SAID, "WOULD ANYBODY
LIKE TO TRY ON THE SNUGGLY?"
AND THIS POOR BOY WHO HAD BEEN
SO BUTCHERED BY LIFE, WHO WAS
TWO YEARS OLDER THAN EVERYBODY
ELSE 'CAUSE HE'D FAILED TWO
YEARS, HE'D SHAVED HIS HEAD, HE
HAD HAIR LIKE A PONYTAIL ON THE
TOP AND HE HAD A TATTOO AT THE
BACK.
HE SAID, "I'D LIKE TO TRY IT
ON."
AND HERE HE IS, MISTER BIG,
BRUTAL, SAUNTERING OFF, AND
DOESN'T HE PUT ON THE GREEN
SNUGGLY WITH THE PINK BROCADE.
AND WHEN INVITED TO PUT THE BABY
IN, DOES NOT THIS WISE BABY
CUDDLE CHEST TO CHEST WITH THIS
BOY?
AND THEN HE WENT OFF IN THE
CORNER AND HE WAS ROCKING BACK
AND FORTH.
AND AFTER ABOUT A FEW MINUTES,
HE CAME BACK, LOTS OF NOISE IN
THE CLASS, THE KIDS WHO ARE
GOING ON OFF TO ANOTHER CLASS.
AND AFTER TAKING THE BABY OUT
EVER SO GENTLY AND GIVING THE
BABY BACK TO THE MOM, HE SAID TO
THE
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
INSTRUCTOR, "DO YOU THINK IF
NOBODY EVER LOVED YOU THAT YOU
COULD STILL BE A GOOD FATHER?"
SO WE BELIEVE THAT AS LONG AS
THERE IS A HEARTBEAT THERE IS A
HOPE.
AND A BOY LIKE THAT WHO HAS NO
WORKING MODEL IN HIS MIND OF A
LOVING RELATIONSHIP--
WHEN HE SEES OVER A WHOLE
SCHOOL YEAR THE ATTACHMENT AND
ATTUNEMENT OF TWO PEOPLE, THAT
HE CAN SPEAK TO A BABY THAT HE
CAN HOLD--
THAT IS THE BRINGING TOGETHER OF
LEARNING FROM THE MIND AND THE
HEART.
THAT IS DEEP LEARNING.
THAT IS WHAT MICHAEL FULLAN
CALLS DEEP LEARNING.
IN FACT, FOR YOU EDUCATION
FOLKS, MICHAEL FULLAN USES
CLASSROOM CLIPS OF
ROOTS OF
EMPATHY
TO TEACH PEOPLE
ALL OVER THE WORLD ABOUT SOCIAL
AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING.
HERE IS HOW WE TEACH EMOTIONAL
LITERACY.
THIS IS A KINDERGARTEN CHILD'S
PICTURE OF WHAT HAPPENS AT
ROOTS OF EMPATHY.

[Laughter]
A slide shows a drawing next to a caption that reads "Observation and labelling baby’s emotions."

Mary continues EVER CHILD'S
EYES ARE LOOKING IN.
SO IT'S THROUGH THIS BABY VISIT
THAT YOU LEARN THE LABELS FOR
YOUR FEELINGS.
IF THE BABY'S FRUSTRATED, YOU
LEARN THE WORD FRUSTRATION.
AND THEN WE TEACH REFLECTION,
AND THE CHILDREN LEARN TO
IDENTIFY AND ANCHOR THOSE OWN
FEELINGS IN THEMSELVES, AND OF
COURSE WE TEACH A LOT ABOUT
BEING PROUD.
SO MANY CHILDREN ARE NOT ALLOWED
TO FEEL PROUD, AND WE'RE NOT
TALKING ABOUT THE TROPHIES AND
MEDALS AND STICKERS.
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT YOUR
INTERNAL MOUNT EVERESTS.
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING
THAT YOU CAN TREASURE, THAT WILL
NEVER BE BROKEN OR STOLEN.
IT'S YOUR OWN GOALS.
AND HERE IS RICKY.
EVERY SINGLE PLAYGROUND IN THE
WORLD, EVERY BOARDROOM, EVERY
WORKPLACE NEEDS A RICKY.
RICKY HAS REAL EMPATHY.
HE UNDERSTOOD HOW HIS FRIEND
FELT WHEN HE HELPED HIS FRIEND.
She reads "WHEN MY FRIEND IS SCARED OF THE
SLAD, I WILL HELP HIM."
DOESN'T GET MUCH BETTER THAN
THAT.
AND THEN THE IDEA OF BEING
COMFORTABLE DISCUSSING YOUR
FEELINGS.
CAN YOU IMAGINE ONE CLASS I WAS
IN, A NINE-YEAR-OLD BOY TOLD THE
KIDS THAT HE WAS SO PROUD
BECAUSE HE DOESN'T WET THE BED
ANYMORE, AND NOW HE CAN GO ON
SLEEPOVERS.
DO YOU KNOW HOW TORMENTED AND
HUMILIATED THAT CHILD WOULD'VE
BEEN IN ANOTHER CLASS?
HE WOULD'VE BEEN TAUNTED--
FOR WETTING THE BED.

A new slide shows a boy’s drawing of a baby and a cradle next to a caption that reads "Try not to get mad at a baby because he might learn to be mean when he grows up."

She continues BUT THERE WAS ENOUGH SOCIAL
TRUST AND RESPECT IN THAT CLASS
THAT THAT CHILD KNEW THAT
EVERYONE WOULD UNDERSTAND AND
FEEL HAPPY FOR HIM--
JOIN HIM IN FEELING PROUD
INSTEAD OF PUTTING HIM DOWN, AND
THIS IS A LITTLE BOY WHO
UNDERSTANDS WHY I CREATED
ROOTS OF EMPATHY.
THIS IS A LITTLE BOY WHO KNOWS
THAT YOU BREAK CYCLES OR YOU
CREATE AND PROPAGATE A CYCLE.
"TRY NOT TO GET MAD AT A BABY
BECAUSE HE MIGHT LEARN TO BE
MEAN WHEN HE GROWS UP."
AUTHENTIC COMMUNICATION IS A
BASE IN
ROOTS OF EMPATHY.
WE DON'T ASK CHILDREN STUPID,
MEANINGLESS QUESTIONS LIKE,
WHAT COLOUR IS IT?
HOW MANY LEGS DOES IT HAVE?
WHAT BUSINESS DO YOU HAVE ASKING
THOSE QUESTIONS AS AN ADULT IF
YOU'RE WORKING WITH CHILDREN?
IF YOU DON'T KNOW THAT, YOU
SHOULDN'T BE TEACHING THEM.
THAT'S HOW CHILDREN THINK.
YOU KNOW, IT'S INSULTING.
NOW, YOU KNOW, IN SCHOOL THERE
ARE REAL THINGS LIKE TWO AND TWO
ARE FOUR AND THEY HAVE TO BE
FOUR.
BUT IN
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
WE'RE DEALING WITH MUTUALITY
BECAUSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
FEELINGS, AND SOMETIMES THE
CHILDREN ARE MORE SOPHISTICATED
THAN THE ADULTS.
THE CHILDREN ARE ALWAYS PURE AND
CLEAR ON THEIR FEELINGS.
HERE YOU HAVE IT--
MARGINALIZATION.
SOCIAL EXCLUSION.
CHILDREN UNDERSTAND WHAT IT
FEELS LIKE.

A slide shows a child’s drawing next to a caption that reads "Amar is crying because nobody play with him."

She continues WHEN YOU HAVE EMPATHY, YOU KNOW
HOW THE OTHER PERSON FEELS, SO
YOU HAVE THINGS HAPPENING, LIKE,
IN THE PLAYGROUND, IF SOMEONE
HAS NO ONE TO PLAY WITH.
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
CHILDREN INVITE THAT PERSON TO
PLAY.
IN THE LUNCHROOM, SOMEONE'S
SITTING ALONE, VERY OFTEN A
CHILD FROM THE
ROOTS OF
EMPATHY
CLASS WILL
INVITE THAT PERSON TO JOIN THEM.
AND THIS IS A CHILD WHO HAS
BEAUTIFULLY, SYMBOLICALLY DRAWN
HOME, JUST REPRESENTED BY A
DOOR.
AND LOOK AT THE RAGE HE HAS
UNDERSTOOD.
THE SADNESS.
WHEN CHILDREN UNDERSTAND THAT
BABIES CRY FOR SOCIAL AND
EMOTIONAL REASONS, I PROMISE YOU
CHILD ABUSE WILL BE REDUCED.

A slide shows a boy’s drawing next to a caption that reads "The baby is crying because her mom is gone."

Mary continues THE CHILD ABUSE
THAT I WORKED WITH, MANY PEOPLE
DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THAT BABIES
CRY FOR A REASON, NOT JUST
'CAUSE THEY'RE BAD.
AND NOT TO MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE AN
INEFFECTIVE PARENT.
BUT IT'S NOT JUST PHYSICAL
REASONS BABIES CRY FOR.
SO JUST
UNDERSTANDING THAT THERE ARE
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL REASONS FOR
TEARS CAN SAVE LIVES.
THERE IS YOUR SOCIAL ACTION.
THE PROGRAM IS IN ENGLISH AND
FRENCH.
IT'S OFFERED TO ABORIGINAL
COMMUNITIES ON AND OFF RESERVE.

A new slide shows a child’s drawing of a boy crying next to a caption that reads "If someone is sad I would hug them." Then, another one under the title "Bullying" appears. It shows a dialogue that reads "Give me all your candies otherwise I’m going to beat you up! Ok. La fois que j’ai été intimidé."

She continues HERE IS THE ONLOOKERS AND THE
BYSTANDERS COMING TO THE FORE.

The slide changes to another a dialogue that reads "Stop bullying my friend! Give me your lunch money! La fois que j’ai été intimidé."

She continues IT WAS A WONDERFUL--
I WRITE ABOUT THIS SCENE IN THE
BOOK JUST BEFORE I WAS FINISHING
UP THE BOOK.
DOCTOR ALYNSLEY-GREEN, WHO'S THE
CHILDREN'S COMMISSIONER OF THE
U.K.--
HE WANTED TO LEARN ABOUT
ROOTS OF EMPATHY.
I HAD MET UP WITH HIM BY
ACCIDENT IN AUSTRALIA, SO HE
CAME TO MANITOBA TO SEE A
CLASSROOM.
AND THE CHILDREN WERE GORGEOUS,
IT WAS A GRADE 1-2 CLASS, AND IT
WAS A FAMILY VISIT.
AND AT THE END OF THE VISIT I
SAID TO THE CHILDREN, "NOW WOULD
YOU LIKE TO ASK THIS MAN FROM
ENGLAND ANY QUESTIONS?"
SO THE CHILDREN SAID YES, AND
THE FIRST QUESTION WAS, "ARE
THERE SHARKS IN ENGLAND?"
AND THE SECOND QUESTION WAS,
"HOW DID YOU GET HERE?"
AND NOT ONE CHILD IN THAT CLASS
HAD EVER BEEN ON AN AIRPLANE,
AND THE THIRD QUESTION WAS, "IS
THERE WAR IN ENGLAND?"
AND THEN DR. ALYNSLEY-GREEN
SAID, "DO I GET A CHANCE TO ASK
YOU QUESTION?"
SO THE CHILDREN SAID YES, AND HE
SAID, "TELL ME ABOUT THIS
BULLYING THING."
AND WE HADN'T BEEN TALKING ABOUT
BULLYING.
THE BABY HAD BEEN THERE.
AND ONE LITTLE BOY STOOD UP TALL
AND HE PUT UP HIS HAND AND HE
SAID, "I USED TO BE A BULLY.
I USED TO BULLY HER, AND HIM,
AND HER."
HE WAS POINTING, HE POINTED OUT
FIVE CHILDREN AND THEN ONE
LITTLE CHILD SAID, "AND ME,
TOO!"

[Laughter]

Mary laughs and continues AND THE LITTLE
BOY SAID, "YES."
AND AL SAID TO HIM, "WELL, WHAT
HAPPENED?"
HE SAID, "I'M NOT A BULLY
ANYMORE."
"WHY NOT?" SAYS AL.
HE SAID, "WELL, I UNDERSTAND
NOW, I GOT
ROOTS OF EMPATHY
AND I GOT SELF-CONTROL.
SO, UM--
THE CHILDREN HELP ONE ANOTHER.
AND YOU NEED FRIENDSHIP IN
CHILDHOOD VERY BADLY.
A CHILD WITH A FRIEND CAN GET
THROUGH A LOT OF TROUBLE.
BUT WITHOUT A FRIEND AND WITHOUT
KNOWING HOW TO MAKE A FRIEND, A
CHILD CAN BE IN TROUBLE.
AND I HAD TO SHOW YOU THIS ONE.
I THOUGHT IT WAS SO ADORABLE.
IF YOU'RE A NEW CANADIAN, VERY
OFTEN YOU HEAR THINGS
DIFFERENTLY.

A slide shows a child’s drawing of a girl giving a talk next to a caption that reads "On-a-roll student of the month. Sometimes I get stage fright."

She continues SO, IF YOU'RE GETTING NERVOUS
BECAUSE YOU'RE ON THE HONOUR
ROLL--

[Laughter]

Mary walks towards the center of the stage and concludes SO I THINK THE
THING IS THE CHILDREN ARE
SPECTACULAR IN THEIR
UNDERSTANDING AND IN THEIR
COMPASSION.
AND IT IS A HOPEFUL PICTURE WE
SEE IN A WORLD THAT SOMETIMES
LOOKS BLEAK.
I DO NOT FEEL DISCOURAGED OR
DAMPENED IN ANY WAY AT ALL, ALL
I HAVE TO DO IS GO INTO A
CLASSROOM.
ANY CLASSROOM.
AND SEE THE POTENTIAL FOR
CHANGE.
THANK YOU.

[Applause]

Watch: Mary Gordon on Roots of Empathy