Contrary to popular belief, most people do care about the welfare of others.
From an evolutionary standpoint, empathy is a valuable impulse that helps humans survive in groups. In American schools, this impulse has been lying dormant from a lack of focus. But in Denmark, a nation that has consistently been voted the happiest place in the world since Richard Nixon was president, children are taught about empathy from a young age both inside and outside of school.
Children in the Danish school system participate in a mandatory national program called Step by Step as early as preschool. The children are shown pictures of kids who are each exhibiting a different emotion: sadness, fear, anger, frustration, happiness, and so on. The students talk about these cards and put into words what the child is sensing, learning to conceptualize their own and others’ feelings. They learn empathy, problem-solving, self-control, and how to read facial expressions. An essential part of the program is that the facilitators and children aren’t judgmental of the emotions they see; instead, they simply recognize and respect those sentiments.
Another program, which is increasingly popular, is called CAT-kit. This program is aimed at improving emotional awareness and empathy and focuses on how to articulate experiences, thoughts, feelings, and senses. Tools in the CAT-kit include picture cards of faces; measuring sticks to gauge intensity of emotions; and pictures of the body, on which participants can draw the physical aspects and location of emotions. Another tool is called My Circle: Children draw their friends, family members, professionals, and strangers in different parts of the circle as part of an exercise on learning to better understand others.