In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day earlier this week, I want to share a powerful empathy exercise that took place just after Dr. King’s passing.
I’m surprised I had not heard about it before recently reading about it. It was controversial because, as you will see, it was an experiment of sorts, performed on kids.
In 1968, Jane Elliott was a third-grade teacher in Iowa. In April of that year, the day after Dr. King was assassinated, Elliott organized an exercise to show her class of eight- and nine-year-olds how racial discrimination worked.
She divided her all-white children into two groups, based on eye color. She told the blue-eyed children they were superior to their brown-eyed classmates, and she told the brown-eyed, who had to wear identifying collars, they were less intelligent and poorly behaved. What followed was the blue-eyed children began to behave arrogantly and, soon, the brown-eyed children began to accept their lower position.
The next day she reversed the experiment, and the results reversed, although this time around, the brown-eyed children, having already experienced discrimination, were more sensitive to the suffering of their blue-eyed peers.
In other words, they had empathy: they were able to put themselves in the shoes of another.
What is your empathy ability? Are you able to put yourself in the shoes of others? Please join the conversation with your comments…