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February 2014 | Volume 71 | Number 5
Building School Morale Pages 42-47

Special Topic / Circles of Care

Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie M. Jones

Empathy is not just a skill; it's a broad and deep sense of care and humanity—and that's what we need to develop in children.

James is 14 years old. Tall, handsome, funny, athletic, attuned to others, he is one of the popular, high-status students in his large freshman class. He can be remarkably caring and attentive, even at times doting, with his close friends.

But James has a dark side. Sometimes he uses his social skills to manipulate others, and he draws a bright line between those inside and outside his circle of friends. Those outside are often invisible to him—or are fair game for degradation. He sexualizes girls he finds attractive and snubs those he doesn't. Students who are isolated and vulnerable, rather than eliciting his compassion, can trigger his cruelty. When a new student shyly approaches him in the cafeteria where he is sitting with his friends, reminding James that they had met a year before at a sporting event, James's response is swift and brutal: "Get the hell out of my face."

Does Empathy = Compassion?


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