Empathy as An Antidote to Bullying: Behind-the-Scenes of the Kindness Leaders Conference 2021

Tribeless brought our Kindness Workshop to 350 student leaders across Southeast Asia after a successful run in Malaysia. Here’s what went down.

Gwen Lyne Wong
See The Human First



“How many of you have experienced some form of bullying before?” asked the poll on the screen.

Students jostled for attention in the chat. Mics crackled. Videos flickered on and off. One by one, votes trickled in. 46… 85… 112… 167…

In the end, the final number blinked back at us.

80% of the participants answered ‘yes’.

From February 3rd–5th 2021, UNICEF organized the first Kindness Leaders Conference (KLC) in the region, bringing together a total of 350 students leaders from across 10 Southeast Asian countries (Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore).

Tribeless had the honor of collaborating with UNICEF as the official Program Design Partner for the Kindness Leaders Conference, bringing the 90-minute Kindness Workshop we’d developed for the #StandTogether campaign in Malaysia to a larger, regional audience.

The Kindness Workshop is a fun, interactive, virtual workshop that teaches students three crucial skills in combating bullying: empathy, kindness and gratitude. In addition to leading the workshop on Day 1, we also had the honor of running a ‘Train-the-Trainer’ on Day 2 for the students to bring the workshop back to their local communities. (But this Medium post only chronicles what went down on Day 1.)

In alignment with the larger conference’s goal of shifting from anti-bullying to pro-kindness, our Kindness Workshop covered 3 main areas — understanding the types of bullying, developing practical empathy skills, and practicing expressing positive affect towards one another. We’re excited to offer a behind-the-scenes peek to the workshop in this post!

A screenshot from the Workshop Presentation Slides on the definition of bullying.

Stand In With Me

During the first part of our workshop, we walked the student leaders through the problem of bullying and the different types of bullying that exist. The first step is identifying the different forms that bullying took on — physical, social, verbal, cyber —acknowledging that bullying was happening all around them, and yes, it’s 100% OK if you’ve been bullied, too.

Empathy is about creating a space where we can explore the commonality of our experiences, so we led them through an activity called ‘Stand In With Me’. All videos were off by default. One by one, we presented a statement— and if you resonated with the statement, you would turn your video on…

… look around, and see how many others were ‘standing in’ with you.

A screenshot from the Workshop Presentation Slides of Statement 1 of the ‘Stand In With Me’ activity.

The mood was thick with unspoken emotions as the number of videos being turned on inched higher and higher. For the last statement (“Turn on your video if you have stood by and watched others get bullied because you were too afraid to do anything”), the number of videos being turned on shot into the 100's. ~chills~

It was a powerful reminder that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only ones who have dealt with such experiences of guilt, embarrassment, shame or regret. 🥺

After that, we moved into our area of expertise — ‘Empathy’.

What is the relationship between bullying and empathy?

Simply put, bullying happens because of a lack of empathy. It’s easy to assume we are different when we judge each other by what we see on the surface, like our physical appearances or the story that we have in our heads about others.

But when we peel the surface away and get to know each other’s personal stories and perspectives, we will find that we are actually more similar than we are different.

At Tribeless, we believe that empathy is a tool we can use to connect with others — and creates spaces that allow people to feel less alone and supported.

But empathy isn’t something that can be easily taught. It must be experienced.

So, instead of just explaining what empathy is, we gave students a personal experience of what empathy feels like.

Shawn from Tribeless walking the students through using the ‘Me Too!’ and ‘Sending Love!’ cards for the ‘Empathy Game’.

The Empathy Game

Adapting our virtual Empathy Box methodology, we introduced two Response Cards to the students — ‘Me Too!’ and ‘Sending Love’. Response Cards put the power back into the hands of the person that’s sharing, and sets up a boundary for students to interact safely and respectfully.

Students took turns reflecting on their experiences with bullying and sharing their responses. When students responded to someone’s story with ‘Me Too!’, they were learning to identify parts of their own experience in other people’s, which is one of the ways to show empathy in a conversation.

And when they raised their ‘Sending Love’ card, they were expressing their support, appreciation, and care to someone for sharing — which is the first step of practicing empathy. ❣️

Gratitude Notes

After 30 minutes of empathetic conversation in breakout rooms, we gathered back in the main room to wrap up the workshop on a note of gratitude (😝).

Gratitude plays crucial in the cycle of kindness and empathy. It helps to build closer relationships when we let another person know the impact they’ve had on us in tangible, specific ways.

For this part, we guided students through an activity called ‘Gratitude Notes’. Students were asked to write a gratitude note to each person in their group and themselves. Then we sent them back into their breakout rooms to read (!!!) their gratitude notes out loud to each other.

And the response…was overwhelming:

A screenshot of some of the students’ comments after coming back from their Gratitude sharing session :’)

Of course, how could we forget the final icing on the cake…a celebrity visit from Siwon Choi of SuperJunior fame. 🤩 He answered questions from the student leaders about how he practices empathy and kindness in his own life with warmth and poise. It was a wonderful way to wrap up the day.

A group screenshot featuring UNICEF Ambassador, Siwon Choi at the end of Day 1 of the Kindness Leaders Conference.

We’re so thankful to have had the opportunity to support UNICEF in this ASEAN Kindness Leaders Conference. It was a special experience for me personally to empower student leaders from all across SEA with the empathy skills that had been so crucial for my own development as a young person.

We can’t wait to see them bring these skills, tools and friendships back to their own schools and countries. We’re rooting for you, friends! 🌼

Gwen Lyne is the Partnerships and Community Manager at Tribeless. Her love for youth, facilitation and social impact made her a perfect fit for this campaign! Find out more about the work we do at Tribeless: www.tribeless.co

Written by Gwen Lyne. Edited by Gwen Yi. All rights reserved.