Sometimes it's difficult to stir empathy for an individual that you see as harmful, hurtful, or standing in the way of your good work and living, yet typically if we look deeply at each other and take a step back, that empathy will come.
In general, most people act as they've been treated in life. We see that time and again in the classroom, well-loved and cared for children are much easier to teach than children who have been mistreated and uncared for. In fact, those well-loved and cared for children often have more to give the teacher than the teacher has for them. Typically love snowballs through the generations--one loving family begets another loving family--love is catchy in a positive way.
I often tell students who come from more challenging situations that they can build a life that includes the good they see around them, and that they don't have to repeat the challenges they experience in their life, a life they'll create for themselves and their loved ones in the future. I say the same to my own children. Sometimes I'll relay to my children why our family faces a certain challenge, and then I'll tell them that they don't have to repeat that challenge in their own life by making different choices. These challenges aren't always harmful or hateful challenges, but challenges that lessen the richness or strength of living.
People carry all kinds of challenges and those challenges are born in generations close and generations past. For example cultures who have faced great prejudice and violence hand down those stories and experiences to their children and children's children which creates an awareness and readiness to deal with such hardship if that occurs again. Similarly people pass down the good they've learned and experienced too--a love of learning, reading, poetry, dance, outdoor exploration, family traditions, and more are handed down from one generation to the next serving to enrich lives and create positive experiences.
So as we deal with people and the many ways they present themselves to us, we have to recognize that one person is a the collection of many people and many experiences past and present. They are the sum of their strengths and challenges, talents and shortcomings, riches and poverty. Everyone has a story to tell, and if we make time to hear those stories, we build greater empathy, respect, and awareness of whom that person is, why they act the way they act, and how we can best support them in their lives.
Those little children we teach each day are also the collection of family, friends, and community members past and present. They are their neighborhoods, family strengths/challenges, history, culture, dreams, and wants. The more we see the children fully, the better we will be able to connect with them and teach them well. When dealing with challenging situations, it's clearly important to think about the people involved with empathy and care, and go hard on the problems, but not the people. The more empathy we gather, the better we'll be able to do that. Onward.