On Empathy

When I first came to college, I expected to learn a lot. That’s the point of college after all, right? You go for schooling. You go to expand your brain, to be educated, to develop the intellectual ability to carry out a career to the best of your ability.

But above all else, Dordt has stretched my empathy, which I couldn’t have anticipated.

I’m a theatre and an English major, so my coursework is specifically geared towards understanding others. Every time I’m cast in a theatrical role, for example, I develop not only the ability to vocalize and physicalize that character, but also the ability to think and emote like that character. And every time I read a novel for an English assignment, I allow myself to enter the narrator’s world and experience his or her experiences. And when we discuss these plays/books as a class, I learn to see things from my classmates’ perspectives, too.

Though my studies are inherently empathy oriented, I’d argue that this focus on empathy is present in every program of study Dordt offers. I’m not exactly qualified to speak into psychology or nursing or theology programs, but I have taken a number of classes outside my major because of Dordt’s Core program, so I have some credibility. For those of you who are curious, Dordt students are required to take a wide range of Core courses alongside students of all grades and all majors, including:

·      Core 100 (Kingdom, Identity, and Calling)

·      Core 110 (Public Speaking)

·      Core 120 (English Writing)

·      Core 130 (Health, Sport, and the Body)

·      Core 135 (choose three of any physical activity courses – I took gymnastics for one of mine, which was the dream)

·      Core 140 (Roots of Western Worldview, Origins-Enlightenment)

·      Core 145 (Roots of Western Worldview, Enlightenment-Present Day)

·      Core 150 (Biblical Foundations)

·      Core 160 (Intro to the Arts)

·      Core 180 (Responding to Literature)

·      Core 200 (Christian Philosophy)

·      Quantitative Reasoning (choose from one of many basic math courses)

·      Lab-Based Science (choose from one of many basic biology/chemistry-type courses)

·      Persons in Community (choose from one of many psychology classes)

·      Justice and Stewardship (choose from one of many political science/business-type courses)

·      Cross-Cultural (choose from one of many, most of which include time abroad)

·      Advanced Reformed Thought (choose from one of many, usually within your program of study)

·      Core 399: Calling, Task, and Culture

Even though I don’t plan to go into agriculture or STEM or business, these Core courses have given me a basic understanding and an appreciation for those systems of thought. I understand their value within society, I’ve learned to respect those who devote their time to prospects that don’t necessarily interest me, and I’m knowledgeable enough to maintain conversations and ask worthwhile questions when discussing others’ pursuits. I see how God is working in all areas, and I’m excited to see how He uses my classmates to further bless others through their God-given passions in their God-given workplaces, both presently and for the rest of their lives.

Though each student here at Dordt maintains pride in his/her major, that pride isn’t demeaning. As an English major, I don’t look down on an HHP major because I’ve deemed the mind more important than the body. And as a theatre major, I don’t look down on an engineering major because I’ve deemed spoken words more important than written numbers. Instead, we befriend one another because we have a lot to offer, as our different experiences lend to lots of learning opportunities.

Sounds a lot like empathy, am I right?

Which sounds a lot like the second greatest commandment, am I right?

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

On an institutional level, Dordt is teaching me how to be more like Christ because, no matter which course I’m taking, the primary goal is to promote empathy. I haven’t even mentioned all the empathy-growing opportunities constantly afforded me outside of class – such as my residence life positions, my experiences church-hopping with friends, my one-on-one conversations with my professors in their offices, my time teaching in local middle school classrooms, my time eating dinner around my host family's table, etc. But those are for a future post, or perhaps they’re inherently woven into past posts because empathy is inherently woven into everything about the way Dordt does college.

Tonight, I’m just grateful for my coursework and how it’s taught me to care for others through empathy. And on this Sunday night, I’m looking forward to the week ahead and all the other chances I’ll have to empathize and be empathized with, seen and valued as an individual as I’m learning to see and value other individuals on this tight-knit campus.

 -- Annie