Empathy, "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another," is hard. It is truly difficult to stand in another person's shoes and see life from their perspective. We all spend most of our time seeing the world from our own vantage point.
It is even harder for Ranch kids.
When you have lived a life that is truly "each man (and child) for themselves," in an atmosphere of violence and fear, your main concern is survival. We are wired to protect ourselves first. When the fear is constant and pervasive and real, it actually impedes the brain's development to the higher functions like empathy. It becomes, rather than a developmental step, a skill that must be taught and learned.
By cross-campus mail, I received a piece of child art, sent to me by a boy on the Minot campus. He wrote on it, "for Joy Ryan." I didn't expect it, we haven't visited much, but I am so touched that he sent it. On one side of the paper is a modern, childish expression of the Ranch's logo.
On the other side are two handprints. One is a copper color. Obviously, he painted his hand and then pressed it onto the paper. The second handprint is black, tilted about ten degrees to the right, but on top of the first, so that the colored fingers alternate and the colors of the palm prints shadow each other. At the top of the painting, he wrote "empathy."
What a phenomenal definition provided in a picture. The idea that we are in touch with and feeling alongside another is pretty powerful. This boy has learned about empathy. What he doesn't have the words for, he shows us in his art.
These kids are always surprising and inspiring. I am so proud to walk alongside them.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
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