Blue Highways Journey – Episode 31 – Empathy

Adam Steele wanted to share another blue highway hero story with his team. This one involved Jason, a young man with the upper body of an adult but a lower body of a child. He was only four foot tall. “I learned about Jason from his homeroom teacher in high school,” Adam explained.

Over his first three years of high school, Jason was accepted by his classmates, and there was no evidence of bullying or other offensive behavior toward him. His grades were outstanding. His goal was to continue his education and eventually go to medical school.

Jason’s high school required community service during his senior year and his teacher asked him to work at a local rehabilitation center for children. The center worked with children with a full range of developmental needs. Some were physical while others were mental. The center was located in this remote site to give children an outdoor experience. His teacher hoped this would be good for his future med school application.

Jason had been at the center for six weeks when his teacher got a call from the director of the center. He was anxious about the subject of the call, hoping that Jason’s medical condition wasn’t a problem.  “What I describing to you now is my recapitulation of that call,” Adam explained.

Director:              I wanted to talk to you about Jason.

Teacher:              I know that he isn’t like your common volunteer, but I hope that hasn’t been a problem.

Director:              That’s not why I’m calling. Jason has been the best volunteer we’ve ever had. His physical condition has been a huge advantage. Our children think of him as one of their own. He’s a big child to them, and Jason has embraced that image.  In fact, we have one child who has never responded to any of our efforts, but she responded to Jason. We think she is on her way to a real breakthrough.

Teacher:              Wow! I never expected that. You know Jason has a dream of going to med school. Could you help?

Director:              Certainly. A big criticism of med schools is that we produce a bunch of specialists who lack the ability to inspire their patients. Jason has that ability.

Adam summarized what he learned from the lesson:

“Inspiring others begins with being able to empathize with others. Jason was able to show empathy because of his medical condition, but there are other ways we can show empathy. That begins with making connections. In rural areas, there is something called a connection ritual.” 

Those who are able to inspire others have empathy skills that link them to a broad range of people. They have an identity that says, “We are a lot alike.” That’s hard to do. Empathy must be genuine and can’t be aided by public relations hype or other campaigns designed to build images.”

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“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”
– Daniel H. Pink (author)

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