Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'Social Emotional Learning'

A doctor writing in Bible & Life reflects on his  understanding  of empathy  growing up, and in his years as a child psychiatrist. His mother was a pharmacist, and would take care of his medical needs. He never considered  medicine as a career, and he ends up as a doctor. He saw this as a mystery. The troubles  he saw  growing up and the death of so many in the family, the pain of so many young people, gave him the  desire while in college to go on to be a child psychiatrist.

In one of the cities in Korea a few years ago there were two successive suicides of children jumping  off apartment buildings. Thinking of the classmates of these  children the doctor had to do something, he took members of the children's mental health center, and went to the school. He looked at the girl who sat in the seat behind the child who committed suicide; her head was down, completely dispirited.  He was sorry for those who had died but had more of a need to be with the  living. After the period of mourning he did make it clear to the students, it was alright to laugh.

The coal briquet suicide of a mother with a brain tumor, and her two daughters were found dead by a middle school teacher. The doctor mentions that the teacher after a shower and changing his clothes, the smell  of the  coal briquet remained with him while teaching, he couldn't hold back the tears. The doctor told the teacher, it was a good lesson for his students. And reminded him that  smell is  the most sensitive of our senses.

The doctor was five weeks at the school that lost so many students in the Sewol tragedy; they wondered if the school would ever open again, but the doctor had trust in the strength and resiliency of the students.

On one occasion helping to  heal persons who were sexually abused one of them: "Doctor have you ever been sexually abused?  If you have never been  abused  how can you understand me?" These words were like a chisel at the heart. He felt lonely and heartbroken; this feeling came back again when he was asked if he had ever lost, unexpectedly 250  younger classmates? 

 Empathy, he says,  has to have both the emotional and the cognitive  operating together. With trauma, the emotional faculty is so strong that it silences the thinking brain.The doctor believes more than learning the different formulas of mathematics and another English word; it is important to have social and emotional learning: skills to manage emotions, show sympathy for others,  and make responsible decisions. When our emotional faculty is in order the cognitive will naturally do what is necessary.

He finishes the article with sadness that this was not part of the training of those in the Sewol Ferry. If  the students had been exposed to 'social-emotional  learning' when the loud speakers told them to remain in their cabin, and they  realized this was a question about life and death, they would have acted differently, and the adults would not have put their safety first.

The  last words are not to criticize, he says,  we need to understand others. The Sewol tragedy is happening  around us continually.  We need to have   a love for others. He brings Cardinal Kim to our attention with his  kind smile. He misses the Cardinal. The Cardinal "wanted to give more people more happiness' and the doctor would like that energy, to enter our sterile society to give life.

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