Roots of Empathy

Roots of Empathy

May 10, 2013 09:22 ET

Roots of Empathy: One Proven Solution to the Bullying Epidemic

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 10, 2013) -

Editors Note: There is a photo associated with this press release.

Thursday's Roots of Empathy event Empathy: A compelling evening of film and discussion captivated a sold-out audience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. The evening - hosted by Sarah Polley - began with a short speech by Premier Kathleen Wynne, followed by a screening of award-winning director Alex Gabbay's documentary Love Hate and Everything In Between. An animated panel discussion moderated by CBC host Jian Ghomeshi featured Gabbay, esteemed researcher Marvin Berkowitz and Roots of Empathy Founder/President Mary Gordon.

Love Hate and Everything In Between brings together leading international experts in their fields, including Jeremy Rifkin, Simon Baron-Cohen, Frans De Waal, Vittorio Gallese and Mary Gordon, to discuss the extraordinary role of empathy in resolving conflicts and curbing aggression where wars and politics have failed. The Roots of Empathy program is featured in the film as an innovative and proven approach to the development of empathy, highlighted for its work with children.

"What we are trying to do with the film is build awareness around the word and concept of empathy - to give it a currency and meaning that is universally recognized," explains Gabbay. "Roots of Empathy does exactly that. It exposes children to empathy at a critical time, and it will empower them to take ownership of the concept and put it into practice."

In her welcoming remarks, Wynne lauded Gordon for successfully turning her unique insights into such an effective program.

"[Roots of Empathy] is not just a great program. It's genius because it understands that empathy is inside all of us, and the baby elicits it. That is what Mary saw ... and it is genius."

Wynne continued, "This is the kind of thing that we need to do so much more of in our education system, because little children come to us in school and they bring all of humanity with them, and our job as educators is to help them find all of that within themselves. And that's what these babies do."

The evening complemented the organization's second annual Research Symposium happening this week. Bringing together international experts from an ever-widening range of disciplines, the three-day symposium represents a sharing of knowledge on the global trajectory of empathy, the significance of its neuroscientific implications, and the impact of the Roots of Empathy program.

For over seventeen years, Roots of Empathy programs have been teaching emotional literacy, encouraging perspective-taking and fostering self-regulation - all essential components to the development of empathy. Through guided observations of the significant bond between a parent and child, trained Instructors coach students to first identify the feelings of the baby and then to explore their own feelings, and those of others. As Gordon points out, "Babies are exquisite teachers of empathy because their bodies are theatres of emotion. They don't hide anything."

Since the first programs in Toronto in 1996, the Ontario Ministry of Education has supported Roots of Empathy programming in schools across the province, evidence of its status as a world leader in education by ensuring 21st century skills are part of its curriculum. Education Minister Liz Sandals opened the Roots of Empathy Research Symposium, recognizing the organization for the crucial role it has played in Ontario's whole school approach - educating all aspects of the child.

"I love programs that do two things at once: Roots of Empathy not only individually empowers our students with social/emotional competencies, it positively affects the overall learning climate, allowing Ontario's children to thrive," noted the Honourable Liz Sandals. "Roots of Empathy is setting the standard for evidence-based programs: developing the program based on research, growing the program per the findings and defining directions for further research through events such as this impressive gathering."

More than a dozen years of national and international research shows Roots of Empathy's significant effect in reducing levels of aggression - including bullying - while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. Interdisciplinary researchers are now finding the evidence to support what over half a million children on three continents have been experiencing through the Roots of Empathy program.

"The perceived bullying epidemic is one indicator of a lack of empathy in society today," explains Gordon. "By focusing on the universal nature of emotions, children learn to identify the similarities in themselves and relate to each others' feelings and experiences. There is no place for bullying in a school - or community - where all students recognize themselves in each other."

This week's Roots of Empathy Research Symposium will identify potential international collaborations and define new directions for research relating to the development of empathy and the mechanisms of change involved in relation to the programs efficacy. If it proves to be as successful as its predecessor, it will quickly become a keystone of Ontario's world-class status as a leader in both research and social innovation. Attracting internationally respected visionaries - whether researchers, filmmakers, journalists or politicians - is proving a great start.

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