Every student has had some variation of this moment — after a few all-nighters or a week full of exams, you plop their head in your hands, sigh wistfully and wonder, “What’s the point of education at all?” With the constant pressure of grades, majors, resumes, internships and job offers, it is easy to not even consider the reason why we worry about these things at all.
If asked this question, many would say they pursue education so that they can have a high-paying professional career, so that they can help people or to simply be happy and successful. Whatever your reason for pursuing an education, there is an added bonus that is the basis for not only your post-university plans, but also for becoming a well-rounded and kind person. This bonus is empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
Given that we live in a society divided by race, political affiliation, socioeconomic status and numerous other factors, empathy is an invaluable skill for anyone who wants to be a productive, contributing member of society.
Board of Regents free speech decision must be repealed immediatelyEarlier this month, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted overwhelmingly to approve a policy allowing for the suspension Read…
The more educated a person is, the more able they are to empathize with others and consequently form deeply complex interpersonal relationships. This arises from a phenomenon called the theory of mind, which is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires. A lack of theory of mind has been linked to the breakdown of positive interpersonal relationships, as well as the decay of positive relationships between different groups of people, such as different social classes.
A study sponsored by the The New School for Social Research shows that those who are educated, specifically those who are avid readers, score higher in tests detecting theory of mind in an individual’s psyche. So those readings for your literature class that keep you up all night are significantly improving what kind of person you are and making you more socially adept in personal and professional situations.
There is no doubt that empathy is important, but a skill is useless when it is not enacted. It is not enough to have empathy — we must be empathetic. In order to make the most of our education, every action we make must show some kind of solidarity. This can be accomplished in several ways, especially on this campus, like volunteering with Badger Volunteers, fundraising with your Greek organization and engaging in campus and political policy, often through peaceful protest. In fact, peaceful protest is a prime example of empathy, as it required a person to understand the viewpoints of many, and act accordingly in order to encourage positive social change.
One would think that the university would condone all methods of showing empathy on campus, as developing such a skill is the underlying cause of positive social change, and the most important reason for pursuing an education in the first place. But nothing is ever as it seems.
A few weeks ago, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a policy that would suspend and potentially expel students for interrupting speakers brought to campus, which can be seen as an act of protest by students.
UW Board of Regents approves policy to suspend students for disrupting campus speakersThe University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a policy Friday that would suspend or expel students for disrupting Read…
Many have claimed the act protects the rights of the speaker to free expression, while others say it severely limits the first amendment rights of UW students. However, what the Board of Regents fails to understand is that by attempting to squelch student protests, they are effectively eliminating the prime reason to pursue a UW education at all.
We learn to be more empathetic, to be better people and to make the world a better place. If we are unable to do this through peaceful protest, our educations become pointless. This university and this state are known for the Wisconsin Idea, which was one of the top reasons I chose to further my education here in Madison. The idea we should use our education to improve the lives of all Wisconsinites — an act of empathy.
Although our freedom of speech is important, the true battle against this act is for the right to put the empathy gained from our education to good use — as Mike Smith says, to speak for the silent and stand for the broken.
Abby Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.