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A Critical Attribute of a Future-Ready Citizen

Claudine Fernandez, Ed.M., Harvard University; Founder, Artistic Strategies Academy Singapore

          Empathy might be the single most important characteristic of a successful individual in today’s world and the world of the future. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a test of humankind’s resilience. Those individuals and organizations that have not just survived but thrived were able to adapt and cater to the needs of others. One shining example of a leader who has handled the pandemic with respect, competence, and grace is New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. When addressing the people of her country, she speaks empathetically, showing the people that she cares for them and prioritizes their safety and health above all else. The citizens of New Zealand have responded by taking her policies seriously and cooperating, making New Zealand the first nation to declare itself free of Covid-19. In times of such uncertainty, it is more crucial than ever to have leaders with empathy, whose motives and instructions people can trust.

          Relationships are tested in times of hardship and uncertainty. For many people, the pandemic has been a time of isolation and loneliness. Human contact has been limited, and the only way to feel connected to others and to the world around us is to communicate with deep empathy, albeit via a computer screen. In Singapore, I witnessed several parents developing empathy for teachers once they themselves became teachers at home for their children. Students and teachers grew empathetic for one another as they adjusted to the “new normal” of home-based learning, which has its own set of technical challenges. The only way to make these transitions smoother is to understand and accept what the other party is going through.

          If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to be mindful not just of our own struggles but of the struggles of others. We may not know what will come in the future but one thing is for sure: human beings with empathy are more likely to deal competently with unknowable, unforeseeable circumstances, whether they take place in school, the workplace, or the social sphere.

To wrap this article up, I would like to leave readers with three key takeaways:

          1. Choose Holistic Education Programs for Your Children

                  In today’s globalized world, there are a multitude of educational programs accessible to children, both online and offline. I urge those parents privileged enough to be able to choose to consider holistic programs, which aim to develop a child’s social-emotional capacity as well as offer them knowledge and skills, rather than those focused solely on grades and examinations. In the long run, a child’s grades will be far less important than his or her ability to relate to others and contribute to society. In order for children to thrive in the future, they must acquire the skills of listening actively, connecting with others, and acting in the best interests of both themselves and their fellow community-members, especially those who are less fortunate than they are. All of these skills fall under the broader umbrella of empathy.

          2. Enhance Your Employability

                If you are a young adult building your career and wondering what traits will appeal to your current or future employers, I can tell you, speaking from experience as both a current employer and a former employee, that employers seek to hire innovative problem-solvers, who can understand and empathize with others. These are the employees who can be groomed into leaders and who will bring the organization to greater heights. Many job descriptions even now include empathy as a crucial factor. Job interviews in the future may include “empathy tests” for prospective employees, and these tests may ultimately be more important than grades or other qualifications. Hence, for candidates in the future, empathy will provide an immense advantage.

          3. Craft Policies for the Future

                  Policy-makers arguably have the biggest role to play in ensuring that empathy is nurtured in young people. In Singapore, the government’s policies have historically shaped the culture, perspectives, and behavior of its citizens. The implementation of a single policy can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects: the “two-child policy,” for example, instituted by the Singaporean government in the 1970s, was designed to curb population growth. The policy was so effective that our country is still feeling its effects, now in a negative way: for decades, Singapore has experienced a low birth rate18 and a growing aging population. Therefore, when education policies are conceived, meticulous research, planning, and projecting need to take place. Future generations will compete on the global stage, and if Singapore wants to maintain its reputation as a first-class nation and one of Asia’s economic giants, we need to start preparing our children now. There is no better way than to teach and model empathy, and if policy-makers set the stage by implementing educational policies that highlight empathy, like those in Denmark, then citizens’ behaviors and attitudes will almost certainly follow suit.

Learn more about the Center for Asia Leadership’s programmes in strategic foresight and adaptive leadership here at bit.ly/lead-asia.


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