The importance of being "other" centered

06/ 29/ 2017

A packed auditorium waits for the music. Nervous, she steps out from the chorus and up to the microphone. She does well through the first verse but stumbles on the words and then the notes in the second verse. Mortified, she removes herself from the microphone. The audience is quiet. The music teacher approaches the young student and whispers encouragement in her ear. She returns to the microphone and begins again. When she arrives at the part that she missed the first time, the quiet voices of the audience can be heard, gently helping her make it through the forgotten part. She beams with gratitude, and the audience gives her a standing ovation.


In high school, adolescents learn what it means to be other-centered. A Wall Street Journal article from 2013 quotes research that says girls start developing empathy around age 13, while boys begin to show signs of empathy around the age of 15. It is this empathy that allows adolescents to form healthy relationships with their classmates, their parents, and their teachers.

Later, the article goes on to say, “Perspective-taking continues to be central for adults on the job, helping in designing and selling products and services, building user-friendly devices, and working smoothly with others with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds.” In other words, empathy, the ability to tune into the feelings of other beings, is not only important in relationships with other people but it is also important in a person’s professional career as well.

Empathy, then, is crucial to success as an adult.

Here’s another story. He was a football rock star on campus. New kids, younger kids were in awe of him, just because of his sheer size. He made a point of making time for the new kids and especially the smaller kids. He would invite them to his lunch table and work alongside them in the gym; he modeled acceptance. When he found out that one of his own classmates, new to the school, was not feeling connected and was thinking that coming to Holderness might not have been a good move, he reached out--casually coming alongside him on the walkway, after sports, in the dining hall. They formed a fast friendship, and they both graduated last spring, cheered on and appreciated by the entire student body for having modeled acceptance and kindness.

While parents and family members are important in developing empathy and an other-centered perspective, boarding schools can also play a role. Because boarding schools establish tight-knit communities in which students live together—often sharing dorm rooms, taking classes together, and playing on the same teams—students have opportunities to get to know each other from multiple perspectives. And because teachers are often dorm parents and coaches, there are many opportunities to build the relationships of trust that help students to view the world through the eyes of others. Most boarding schools also have community service requirements for graduation, expecting their students to walk in the shoes of others.

Holderness School is no exception. Our motto, Pro Deo et Genere Humano means “For God and Humankind.” From our ninth-grade volunteer project in Boston to our leadership program that promotes service to others, we work hard at developing empathy. 

How will the Holderness "other centered" approach be right for you?