Empathy in a Red World

Share. Empower. Connect.

I’d like to take this post as an opportunity to investigate how my students here in China could or would connect, empower, and share.

First, let’s address the great big elephant in the room… For the most part in China, we can only connect within China. The great firewall, as most refer to it, blocks the accessibility of websites that the communist party deems unfit to be viewed by people in China.  That’s the law, and we must accept that.

It limits the ability of our students to connect and share outside our country.

Fortunately, Allan Zhang created, perhaps, the greatest app in the world called weChat.

Everyone here, living in China, needs weChat to connect, communicate, and so on, and so on. So, before moving onto what teachers can do to inspire students to make empowered choices by connecting and sharing using the Internet, let’s establish that it must be done via weChat… And, it probably has to be done within China – no Facebook, no Twitter, no Whatsapp, no Vine, no Instagram, no gmail, no google, no YouTube,

It’s OK. We’ve got weChat. We accept that.

And, anyways, the method of delivery isn’t really at the core of this idea to empower, connect, and share. No. While it’s a factor, it’s not what we’re talking about here.

   ooops… Vimeo is blocked here, too.

Martha Payne would have used weChat here in China, and her message probably never would have made it as far as it did in the UK. Regardless, let’s get to the gut punch here. What was it that inspired Martha to want to make a positive change in her world?

Was it her upbringing? Was she just a unique kid?

How can we get students beyond shallow posts, only focusing on themselves, their meals, and their hair?  Clearly, it’s possible.  Scott McLeod gives us several examples of teens and technology and inspiring in his talk.

There’s something special about these kids who do this… Ultimately, I think these are the kids who have the ability to get outside themselves. Few and far between, but possible.

Empathy – now identified as the fist step in the design process – is the most important skill (is it really a skill?) we can teach our kids – without trying to sound like a preacher. As a 34 year old going on 15 – sometimes this is what I need to work on the most.


Empathy, as Brene Brown says, is feeling with people.

So, here in China, how can I get my students to use weChat as an empathy tool – similar to this teen in Minnesota with Twitter – to feel with people?

This is a difficult question to answer, especially in a country where can’t  easily get outside ourselves.

Simple answers:

Number 1. Read books and listen to others stories. The sharing and listening of stories is at the core of being human, right @triciafriedman?

We can be the example.

We can show other kids doing it.

We can build social learning and empathy into our curriculums (but how?)

We can talk.

We can listen.

And, here in China – the Big Red Sea, we will use weChat to do all these things.


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2 Responses to Empathy in a Red World

  1. Cary Hart says:

    Michael, I can imagine that the limitations can make things difficult. But sometimes that is when teachers and students get the most creative. I imagine that connections can be more complicated and more time consuming but I also imagine that when they finally get worked out the students get super psyched that they managed to get through the “Great Firewall”.

    I can even imagine that there are teams of students just trying to figure out ways to get through the firewall for the sole purpose of getting through it and finding holes in it.

    Communication is such an important element in this time. While we as teachers sometimes get frustrated when we can’t make something last of a longer stretch of time, we need to remember that even the short bouts of communication with others leaves an impact on our students.

    I also love the empathy video. The idea sounds so simple but is so hard to do!

  2. Ryan Harwood says:

    Great post Mike. Love the perspective of the internet via WeChat. Certainly creates a very different dynamic to it all.


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