In 2013 I was doing research for sympathy and encouragement cards at work and I encountered a lot of material on empathy. I especially love these two pieces, The Ring Theory of Kvetching and Brene Brown’s beautiful explanation of empathy, both of which went viral at some point during that time.

I have gone back to these resources (and more) time and time again. Empathy has become an incredibly insightful answer to so many different questions in my personal and professional life.

That’s why I was so excited - no - nearly moved to tears - when I found Cori Doerrfeld’s book The Rabbit Listened. In it, a small child named Taylor endures significant loss and each animal tries their hand (or paw or claw) at comforting Taylor. It isn’t until the rabbit comes along and simply listens that Taylor finds any comfort at all.

I bought this book for dear friends who’ve experienced great loss and who have taught me so much about what empathy does and doesn’t look like. They agreed that it is a pristine example of a true empathetic response. I have found myself telling the story of the rabbit to others - not just kids but grown ups, too! - because it’s so clear.

I went back to the store to buy another copy of the book for our house. I want to start now to teach my girls that before they can truly help someone, they need to listen. They need to understand things from someone else’s point of view. They need to ask questions and learn, instead of ramrodding solutions.

Of course it’s hard to teach 5- and 7-year-olds to kindly ask each other “Can I help you?” instead of just yelling to one another “No, you’re doing it wrong!” But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy endeavor. And if I can get them to solve their small problems now with listening and understanding, surely that lays the groundwork for the big problems later. So at our house we talk a lot about being like the rabbit. And listening.

Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is a connection.
— Brené Brown

There are so many barriers that can be broken down - that need to be broken down - by listening and connecting. It would help so many parts of our world - in big and small ways.

What books do you turn to for lessons on empathy? For yourself and for your kids?

Here are some lists I found: 

  • Doing Good Together has book lists on compassion, diversity, and refugees. 
  • Read Brightly also has a great list of books on what it’s like to be a refugee. (PS: I’ve read Inside Out and Back Again - SO GOOD.)
  • Common Sense Media’s list is quite comprehensive.

And I really enjoyed this article from the NY Times on the value of picture books, specifically, as vehicles for demonstrating empathy.