David Brooks: What girls and women get right about empathy and connection

A study at the University of Michigan in 2010 found that college students were 40 percent less empathetic than they were in the 1980s.

The good news is that, . . . many people, including many feminists, are figuring out practically how to teach empathy.

One of the authors in “The Crisis of Connection” is Mary Gordon, who founded the Roots of Empathy project. Once a month, a parent and an infant visit a classroom of children and sit on a green blanket. The children gather around them to talk about what the infant is doing.

Mary Gordon

Ashoka Fellow since May 2002

They watch the infant try to crawl to something or reach for a toy. They are learning to put themselves in the mind of the baby, learning emotional literacy and learning what deep attachment looks like.

In one class there was an eighth-grade boy who Gordon calls Darren who had watched his mother’s murder when he was 4 and was put into foster care. He was bigger than everybody else since he was two grades behind. One day, to everybody’s surprise, Darren wanted to hold the baby.

The mother was nervous but let him, and Darren was great with the baby. He went over to a quiet corner and rocked the baby while the baby snuggled into his chest. Darren returned the baby to his mother and asked innocently, “If nobody has ever loved you, do you think you could still be a good father?”

There it was, Gordon writes, even in traumatized soil, a bloom of empathy.