Put simply, empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes; it’s about understanding not only what someone is thinking, but how they are feeling too. Here are nine practical ways that we develop empathy as Scouts.
1. By bringing people together
From the beginning, Scouting was about bringing people from different cultures, faith and economic backgrounds together. When you work, cook and play with people different from yourself, you gain a deeper understanding of others.
2. By supporting our communities
Over the last four years, as part of our A Million Hands campaign, 250,000 Scouts have had the opportunity to take social action in their communities. From exploring disability awareness and working with the Alzheimer’s Society to supporting those with dementia, Scouts have helped others and developed their powers of empathy at the same time. For example, we’re proud that over 22,000 Scouts are now trained as Dementia Friends.
3. By volunteering
Over ten thousand 14 to 18 year olds get their first taste of volunteering as Young Leaders, helping plan and run games and activities for young Scouts. Giving time freely to help others is perhaps the most powerful way to build empathy. It’s about finding out what support someone needs, and then delivering that support in the most appropriate and sensitive way.
4. By attending international events
World Scout Jamborees and other international events are incredible opportunities for Scouts to spend time and share experiences with different kinds of people. Celebrating their differences and discovering what they have in common is incredibly powerful. It helps Scouts develop an empathy they will take with them through the rest of their lives.
5. By working in teams
One of the key skills we develop is teamwork — the ability to work together towards a common goal. Something as simple as building a raft together and paddling it across a lake helps develop cooperation and empathy. By understanding each other’s strengths, abilities and differing levels of confidence, Scouts work together as a team to succeed.
6. By supporting each other
The founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, once said: ‘A Scout is a friend to all.’ Asking how other people feel and offering support is empathy in practice. Every Scout makes a promise to help other people.
7. By living our values
We are proud to live by our values of integrity, respect, care, belief and cooperation. Treating others the way we want to be treated ourselves is one of the best ways to teach young people empathy. To think about how actions make others feel is one of the valuable lessons Scouts learn.
8. By developing as leaders
Empathy is one of the most important skill a leader can possess. From the age of six onwards, young people in Scouting are given opportunities to develop leadership and take on responsibility.
Connecting with people on an emotional level, asking questions and identifying what makes people tick is key to being a successful leader. It’s about seeing that everything has two sides — what the team needs and what the individual wants. Finding a role or task that meaningfully satisfies both is the path to success.
9. By being considerate
Sometimes we don’t think carefully enough about our thoughts and actions. Dismissing someone’s feelings with a dismissive ‘get over it’ or using sarcasm can hurt feelings and harm someone’s confidence. As Scouts, we think about others’ feelings before we speak.