“To handle yourself, use your head, to handle others, use your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt – Social Awareness
When should you have empathy for others?
Sometimes it’s important to follow rational thinking to solve problems. In those cases, turning off our own emotions helps lead to a solution. When dealing with others, however, the opposite is often true. We need to turn off rational thinking so we can listen and empathize. It’s also the case that acting on one’s feelings helps us make better decisions, and using a cold, rational approach with others is exactly what’s needed to help them. Throughout our lives we have to figure out when to follow our head or follow our heart.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – for a compelling conversation about social awareness, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Intro: Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:29
Welcome, everybody to the Teach Different podcast this week. We have a wonderful quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady, wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The quote is on social awareness. For those new to the Teach Different conversation method, we start with a quote. Then, we have a conversation interpreting the quote in our own words. After about 15 minutes, we introduce a counterclaim, to push against the claim of the quote. Here’s where the magic happens. Kids begin to realize that they see the world differently, but that they can share the same space and have empathy for each other. The quote for today’s conversation is multifaceted, so there will be many different ways to think of the claim and the counterclaim, which is fine. We’ll end with an essential question that we have prepared, but we’d like to remind our listeners that when you have these conversations in class with your students, try to pick out a question that they came up with. They are often much better than ours.
Dan Fouts 01:42
Here’s the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “To handle yourself, use your head, to handle others, use your heart.” What’s your take on this, Steve?
Steve Fouts 02:08
What does she mean by handle? That’s one of the questions I have about the quote. The quote seems to be talking about the thinking part of us, then using the feeling part for how we deal with ourselves and others. Are we bucking Broncos trying to handle ourselves in some way? For starters, I’d like to know what the word handle means.
Dan Fouts 02:46
I would say control. We can’t ask her of course, but to handle yourself is to maintain a sense of self-control, which is another theme with this quote. We’re talking about social awareness. When someone tells you to use your head, they’re usually referring to some impulsive behavior you engaged in that got you into trouble. They’re recommending that you think next time.
Steve Fouts 03:19
Now, go with that. What do people say to people who say, listen to your feelings? Instead of saying use your head, we now say listen to your feelings, or go with your intuition. Open yourself up to some vulnerability. I don’t understand what she means by, “have control over yourself, but handle your heart.” I guess a degree of control is necessary. I would almost call it courage. Sometimes people don’t engage their heart or feelings because they’re afraid of bad things happening or getting rejected. But, she’s actually saying that to handle others you have to use your heart.
Dan Fouts 04:19 – Claim
To handle others use your heart. I think that’s a call to empathy. When you deal with other people, become a good listener. Use your heart, and empathize. In that way, you become closer to them. I think you become more vulnerable.
Steve Fouts 04:46
Okay, so she’s saying to handle your own issues you have to use your head and look at yourself in a reflective way. Be your own judge. With others, you should be empathetic and remember that you’re a human being, that we’re all human beings. You should have some affinity or connection to the emotional side of other people.
Dan Fouts 05:12
I’m thinking of one experience that most of us have had, where a friend comes to us in need and shares something. Sometimes our first impulse is to give them advice or give them a rational answer, a logical response, but often what’s needed is listening and empathy. They want to connect with your feelings more than they want your rationality. Does that make sense?
Steve Fouts 05:42
Yeah, they don’t want you to solve their problem or be overly rational about anything. They just want you to listen. Yeah, that’s really good for the second part.
Dan Fouts 05:57
Let’s think about the students and put this quote in front of them. What types of personal experiences might they talk about? What kind of prompts could we give them? I have one. Talk about a time when you used your head, when you thought and came up with a good idea for how to act. You knew your emotions were not going to be a good guide for you.
Steve Fouts 06:22
Okay, that’s good. “To handle others, use your heart.” What would be a good prompt for this part of the quote? It would depend on the ages of the students. What is the quote really getting at? Is it, when did you deliberately show emotion towards someone to accomplish something? I don’t think it’s like that, but maybe, who have you been vulnerable with? That sounds too deep. I don’t know.
Dan Fouts 07:05
I would take it from the other angle. You’re taking it from the person who’s handling others. I would say to students, have you ever had someone come up to you who needed your emotional support about something?
Steve Fouts 07:19
Dan Fouts 07:20
How did you handle that situation? Did you listen to them and be that source of support? I think that would be one that kids of all ages…
Steve Fouts 07:32
Yeah, I’m sorry. Have you ever had a friend that’s cried on your shoulder. Have you ever had someone who was embarrassed about something and had to talk to you about it? You could even say anger in a way? Life is full of angry people, and you have to figure out what to do about that. Eleanor is saying use your heart. I don’t know exactly what that would mean in the context of being the recipient of someone else’s anger. Maybe it’s to search for an understanding. Someone might be fighting a harder battle than you are. Don’t get confrontational, instead realize that they’re needing to vent.
Dan Fouts 08:25
Or, someone will come up to you and share a story about having a hard time. If you are the type of person to say, that reminds me of a time when I was really hurt. That’s not usually a good way to listen to somebody and empathize. That’s not using your heart. It’s almost like you’re competing for that suffering. Who’s suffering the most?
Dan Fouts 08:52
Also, for the first part of the quote, to handle yourself, use your head, have you ever stopped and given yourself advice? You talked yourself through something rationally, turned off your emotions, and asked yourself, what do I need to do right now to be successful?
Steve Fouts 09:13
One more thing, and this will probably come up in the counterclaim. You could also ask the students if they have ever felt too much about something. Have they been overly anxious about something or maybe even overly sad about something? How did they get out of that situation? What did they learn from it? That would depend on your crowd and what they’re comfortable with. I think that would illustrate Eleanor’s advice. Maybe you would have been more reflective at the time and you wouldn’t have let your heart get in the way of trying to handle yourself.
Dan Fouts 10:04 – Counterclaim
Let’s take the counterclaim. Now read it again, “to handle yourself, use your head to handle others, use your heart.” One counter claim is that to handle yourself, let your feelings be your guide. Act instinctively, use your intuition, and don’t overthink. If you overthink, you’ll start doubting yourself, you’ll start becoming anxious, and you won’t do anything.
Steve Fouts 10:34
I would add to that, that there are people who believe you should fully experience your feelings, good or bad, regardless of why they’re there. That’s part of the process of experiencing them, and healing. If you try to out-think yourself at the time, you’re not facing them and not getting rid of them. Think of the phrase, did you get your cry out? Yeah, that’s the counterclaim. Lead more with your feelings.
Dan Fouts 11:11
She also said, to handle others, use your heart. Sometimes, if you have a friend who’s in need, listening to them, and empathizing can be a really good way to approach things. But, sometimes rationality is what’s needed. That will help them much more than just being a shoulder to cry on. There are different situations for different people at different times.
Steve Fouts 11:43
There’s a way to empathize with people and not emote too much, not be depressed or overly anxious with them. You can still empathize with their situation and get them to be in a more reflective state. That’s a great counterclaim. Both of these counterclaims make sense.
Dan Fouts 12:09
In class I would share a quick personal experience that I had with a student I had maybe 15 years ago. She was not coming to class on time, absent a lot, having a lot of issues. I had so many talks with her. I sat down and listened to all of her issues, and she had many. I got to a point where I realized that I was enabling her by continually probing and exploring all her feelings, so at one point I said you need to do this. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was not a feeling statement, it was rational. It was problem solving and forward moving. It was exactly what she needed.
Steve Fouts 13:04
You use your head to do that. You used your mental framework to get her to step outside of her situation. That’s a tricky thing. I think the counterclaim is also very clear. I think the kids are going to have some things to say about this. I’m trying to think of another storytelling prompt that would evoke the counterclaim.
Dan Fouts 13:47
Maybe there are some intermediary questions you can ask. Are your feelings useful when you’re talking with other people, or do they get in the way? Are they a useful tool, or do they get in the way of communication with other people?
Steve Fouts 14:09
That’s starting to sound like a potential essential question. Yeah. The challenge of this quote is going to be in understanding the word handle and getting a handle on it, so to speak. Another challenge is having the kids share enough experiences, where they’re using their mind in certain cases, and they’re feeling in others. This is what life is, thinking and feeling, and how to deal with people. How do you balance these and know when to use thinking or feeling?
Dan Fouts 15:00
Thinking about curriculum connections, you could study leaders in history, and how some led more and cared more about the people they lead while others were more fixated on their own decision making, and rationality. I imagine you could use this quote when talking about characters in novels. Students could analyze the quote in light of the characters they’re learning about in a novel. Ask the kids, is this character acting in alignment with what Eleanor Roosevelt said, or would you say the character is behaving differently?
Steve Fouts 15:52
That’s good. Let me add in a current event, the war in Ukraine. it won’t be current forever, but it recently happened. The president of Ukraine gave a speech via Zoom in front of the entire US Congress. He asked for help. Now, our president has to make a decision as to what to do. Do you use your head or do you use your heart? What would Eleanor Roosevelt say if she were in Biden’s cabinet as to how to deal with this very serious issue? It’s not easy. Some say you have to help the Ukrainian people, but will that create some other issues that may hurt more people? Maybe you have to use your head. I don’t know what Eleanor would say.
Dan Fouts 17:04
Yeah, I think that’s a really good modern day example of the balance. It’s almost like there has to be some sort of balance between the head and the heart if you are a President of the United States. The leader of Ukraine is using his emotions to appeal to people. He’s definitely handling other people by appealing to that sense of emotion.
Steve Fouts 17:40
He’s the counterclaim, right? Well, I guess it depends on the definition of the word handle, because America is handling the Ukraine crisis in its own way. It has the power to do that. If you could fit this current event in when discussing this quote, I would love to hear how the kids answer a question about what Eleanor Roosevelt would advise Biden to do.
Dan Fouts 18:14
That would be a great activity for middle and high school students. I think that would be a good question to ask with this quote. Put the kids inside a President’s mind and follow the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt or don’t follow the advice. This is where learning is so palpable because the kids are applying the conversation to something else. They’re transferring what they learn from the conversation to something new. That is what is going to make their learning stick.
Steve Fouts 18:57
Hopefully they’re motivated after you have the conversation.
Dan Fouts 19:07 – Essential Question
Well, those are some ideas for all of our listeners, depending on the age of your students. You could think of other applications for this Eleanor Roosevelt quote. I am sure the kids will come up with a lot of really interesting questions during this conversation. Here’s one that focuses more on empathy. This is kind of the back side of the quote. I’ll give the quote again, and then I’ll give you an essential question. “To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart.” When should you have empathy for others? That could be a question that comes out of this.
Dan Fouts 19:53
Well, thank you so much everybody for tuning in. Next week, we’ll have a new quote, conversation, and new applications for the classroom.
Dan Fouts 20:02
It was great to be here. Take care.
Steve Fouts 20:05
See you later, everybody.
Dan Fouts 20:09
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!