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  • Writer's pictureKOFEE Blogger

Conflating Empathy with Shame and Guilt

One of the major consequences presented by those who oppose equity policies and curricula generally mislabeled as ‘CRT’ is that children are being made to feel guilt and shame ‘for being White’. However, based on many of the specific examples the dissenters have provided in both national and local discussions, we must ask "Are they accurately conveying and interpreting these kids’ reactions?" Let's consider the definitions of some critical terms. Per Merriam-Webster (

  • Guilt. Feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy

  • Shame. A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety

  • Empathy. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

  • Compassion. Sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

The current curriculum appears to be doing exactly what it is designed to do; develop understandings of a shared human experience and kinship. An (desired) outcome is the development of empathy and compassion, which can invoke strong and complicated feelings that can be difficult and time-consuming to process, no matter who you are. This deliberately over-the-top quotation captures its potential magnanimity, particularly from a still developing adolescent/young adult perspective:

"Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors."

Andrew Boyd – Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in The Universe (

Unfortunately, some adults seem to be misinterpreting children’s legitimate empathetic and compassionate responses as guilt and shame—whether this is coming from an attempt to protect their children from pain and strife, a projection of their own perceived or imagined inadequacies, or something else entirely is an open question. Regardless, fear seems to be underlying the general reaction, which has been amplified and manipulated by some disingenuous influencers, particularly at the national level. This is not to justify or excuse anything that has followed, but change and the unfamiliar are scary, particularly when they threaten your perceived place in the world and ‘truths’ that you hold to be self-evident.

Empathy is a two-way street and rarely the easy route. If we practice it ourselves, we can touch those hearts and minds that are reachable. A more united and empathetic community can only help to expand its children’s perspectives, connections, and resilience; enhance their ability to adapt in an increasingly dynamic world; and brighten their appreciation for the richness of the human experience.


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