Empathy is the ability of one person to perceive the emotions, needs and desires of another person and to be able to respond in a nurturing way. That’s not only a definition, it’s a tall order. But recently my son rose to the challenge.
My children are water babies. Usually they don’t give the 3’ side of the pool a backward glance as they walk really fast toward the deep end (the lifeguards know us well and have finally drilled the ‘No Running Rule’ into their heads).
Levi is not only a water baby; he’s a freeze cat like his mom. On weeknights we don’t head to the pool until around 7:00, after I’ve had my necessary power nap. By this time it’s cooled off a little. Fearless, Levi usually dives off the board about forty times in a row. Then he’s done. He comes over to me with his teeth chattering and his skin all prune-y. I wrap him in not one but two oversized beach towels and he half dozes and half watches other swimmers, including his sister (she’s not coming out, prune-y or not) while I continue reading my weekly poolside novel.
I truly don’t know how it came to be that the two of us were lounging by the shallow end the evening he came to the rescue of a boy in distress. Maybe it was just coincidence. At any rate, there we were.
“Mommy, I need my goggles,” he informed me in his little boy/man voice.
Now this was an interesting development. Levi never gets back in once he is done. Still, instead of questioning him, I handed over the goggles and followed his gaze toward a boy standing in 3’ of water. He looked older than Levi’s six years but obviously couldn’t swim.
I’d noticed him playing with several pool toys earlier, but now he stood empty handed. And upset. He had no idea how to get those toys back.
Without saying a word, my heroic son, still shivering I might add, walked down the steps and dove under seven or eight times until he’d retrieved every last toy and restored them to their rightful owner. (I tear up just thinking about it). In return for his good deed, he was rewarded from the boy’s valuable collection – with a cool turtle that sprayed water.
As a mom who tries to teach by my good example, it was amazing to get a glimpse into how my child interacts with his peers. I got to witness how he dove right in to aid a stranger, despite the fact that it took him out of his comfort zone. Hmm. Maybe we weren’t sitting near the shallow end by coincidence after all…
Going back to that definition of empathy. Levi perceived the emotions, needs and desires of another person. And he was able to respond to them in a nurturing way. I’d like to believe that he’s empathetic partly because he sees empathy modeled in the way I respond to him when he’s distressed.
And because he really is a Super Boy.