I consider myself to be a pretty nice person. While I have my missteps, my moments of “bucket dipping” as they say (as do we all!), I hold doors for people, bless strangers when they sneeze, am a chronic thanker (I say thank you ALL. The. Time.). But one thing that I’ve noticed at FSU is how courteous and helpful the people are. A hallmark of this I’ve seen is asking people who look lost if they need help. I am the first to admit that I’m far from competent enough to be able to do that. And possibly, even after I learn the campus, still a flight risk to direct someone somewhere. But that’s the sort of culture that exists here, and it lets me know that I really am in the right place.
In light of my surroundings, articles such as this one, posted in the Chronicle this morning, make me upset. Well, not upset. Sad, and a little confused.
The point of the article, for those not ambitious enough to read it (which is OK!), is that there has been a consistent drop in college students’ ability to empathize with others, to see a situation from someone else’s shoes and be able to feel accordingly. This to me is very interesting, given the rise in civic education and the general rise of activism in our generation. Stories of students who entered the Peace Corps and engaged in similar projects in the 60s are mirrored in today’s organizations such as TOMS Shoes, Teach for America, CityYear, and AmeriCorps. And yet, our empathy is dropping.
Is it possible we’ve missed a step?
The only explanation that I can think of for such a chasm between our desire to help others, combined with a drop in empathy, is the division that is drawn between helping those who are less fortunate, and helping those who are viewed as “as fortunate”. That is to say, we help people who appear to need help. But those who are in the same surroundings, to appear to be of well enough means to help themselves, are left behind.
I saw an example of this last night in our intramural kickball championship game. During the game, one of our players got hurt while baserunning. I watched an entire team of med students (as well as “Cheerleaders” also in their program) not only watch as he writhed on the ground, but several of them were encouraging the person holding the ball to tag him. It absolutely disgusted me- not just because it showed a lack of civility, another value that I hold in very high regard, but because it seemed to be wholly missing the empathy piece- how would you want someone to attend to you, were you in the same situation?
Those who work in civic education may be able to refute this, and I welcome more perspectives on the phenomenon- I’m admittedly an outsider in that area, and want to learn more about what you’ve seen from students in this regard.
What can we do to make sure that students don’t just take care of themselves personally, and take care of those who are less fortunate, but also take care of each other?