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A Lesson in Empathy

Twice now, I’ve come across this story of two parents losing their son, and twice I’ve been completely moved by it.  If you’re one who has doubted that empathy can be taught, this scenario might change your mind. It would be a good addition to training in leadership, communication, customer service, team-building and more.

After 10 years of their marriage, a couple had a son. They were very happy and loved the child more than anything. They looked at him for hours while he slept, pampered him, and protected him like a rare jewel. The son meant the world to them.

One day as the husband was getting ready for work, he saw a loosely capped bottle of cough syrup. He asked his wife, who was in the kitchen at the time, to keep the bottle in a safe place away from the son. He then left the house. Somehow, the wife missed what he said and the child drank the whole bottle of cough syrup. When the wife saw her son lying unconscious almost lifeless on the floor she freaked out, called an ambulance,  and rushed him to the hospital.

On her way there, she called her husband, so he could meet her. The doctors took the son, the love of their life, to the operating room. Each minute that passed was like hundred years. At last, the door opened and the doctor came out of ER. They learned their son had passed away due to medicine overdose. Together, the two went into the ER. The husband looked at the dead body of the son, stared at it for a minute, then looked back at the wife and uttered 4 words, ‘___ _____ ______ _____.’

The story stops here, and the facilitation begins.

Ask the participants, ‘what did the husband said to his wife?’  You will hear multiple replies, which will depict anger, frustration and negative emotions. Once participants are done commenting show them the slide with the answer and begin your discussion about empathy.

The husband looked back at the wife and said, ‘I love you darling’.”

Additional points to emphasize:

  1. Both had lost the son, both were deeply grieved
  2. Mother was going thru the pain of losing the son and the agony of how the husband would react.
  3. Husband could have spared a minute and put the cough syrup bottle at a safe place himself, but he didn’t. So he likely feels responsibility too, and cannot shift all the blame on the wife.
  4. The son cannot be brought back. Damaging one relation at the expense of other is not wise.
  5. They will manage the grief better by doing it together and by understanding both their pain and the others.

Posted on LinkedIN by Slawomir Zielinski

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