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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Solving the Empathy Problem

Most of us have been following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastating storm, wiped out hundreds of miles of coastline, leaving 600,000 with no power and at last count, killing almost 100 people. It was an unforgettable tragedy. Many who survived have claimed to have “lost loads of memories” due to the hurricane.


photo credit: thenationalguard via flicker cc

If you work with students, this may be a great opportunity to confront the empathy problem. I’ve cited the University of Michigan study that claims college students today are 40% less empathetic than just ten years ago. Over a decade ago, we witnessed another tragedy with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Students were among the largest demographic to volunteer to help victims. So far, we’re not seeing many youth visiting New Jersey or New York to help anyone. In fact, I overheard students today laughing at one woman who wept over the loss of her pet dog. Hmm. This may just be a great time to push “pause” and use this experience to build compassion in kids:

1. Stop and talk about the tragedy with your students. Share the consequences that many have endured, identifying real people and real stories. 

2. Watch video that’s been posted on YouTube in the aftermath of the hurricane. Ask your students how they would respond if in the same situation.

3. Identify organizations, like the Red Cross, to donate to, providing a means for victims to recover part of what they’ve lost.

4. Give blood or canned food for those who are now homeless and in need of basic resources to survive and get started again.

5. Look for an opportunity to meet someone who was a victim of Hurricane Sandy. There’s nothing like interacting with a real sufferer to catch compassion.

6. If possible, visit and volunteer to clear rubbish, clean property and organize efforts to help victims get back on their feet again.

You may be taking steps with students to build empathy. What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment below.


  1. North Shore Track on November 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Tim, not sure if you saw this piece on the cancellation of the NYC Marathon. I think it puts the empathy issue in interesting way as the motivation to cancel the marathon seemed to be about empathy at first. But the way decision came down cancellation also seemed somewhat about anger too as this writer points out.

    • Tim Elmore on November 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks for sharing that article. Interesting insight into the NYC Marathon cancellation and the role of empathy.

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Solving the Empathy Problem