Mount Saint Mary College’s Center for Adolescent Research and Development (CARD) presented “The Butterfly Effect: Inspiring the Empathetic Leaders of Tomorrow” with guest speaker Ian Hockley, cofounder and executive director of Dylan’s Wings of Change, on Wednesday, October 12.
Hockley shared the tragedy his young son, Dylan, faced in the Sandy Hook school shooting on December 14, 2012. Hockley created Dylan’s Wings of Change, an organization dedicated to his son’s memory with a mission to inspire empathy, courage, and hope.
His talk focused on issues of youth development, such as social isolation, worsening behavioral standards, and the need for adults to foster important core values. Today, much of youth development occurs outside the home: at school, during recreational and social activities, and through social media interactions. These environments inherently contain the risk of significant negative influences.
Hockley discussed the power of empathetic leadership and the implications seen in youth development, particularly through the lens of his own personal experience.
“There are people with no support network, no one to turn to, they’re isolated, lonely, whatever the reason is, these people are hurting themselves and they’re hurting other people,” said Hockley. “The shooter of Sandy Hook was ill-treated through his school years; there are many root causes that need to be addressed.”
Hockley decided on a butterfly for his organization’s logo, but notes the concept of a wingman or superhero as his motto, since it’s relatable to young children.
Hockley learned from an educator in Vermont that introduced the concept of experiential learning. She noted that humans learn best when they’re fully engaged mentally, physically, and when emotions are involved. Hockley set up student-run interactive, team-building activities in Connecticut schools. For example, students would sit in a circle and pass a tin can around the room using only their legs. In the middle of one particular activity, one group of sixth grade students expressed their frustration and trouble moving the can around successfully. Hockley encouraged the other teams to help, which they happily did, and the struggling student was much relieved. Hockley continued these exercises in elementary, middle and high school classrooms to help instill healthy communication and developmental challenges within each other.
“This ‘epidemic’ has an antidote just like we have the vaccine for COVID, and the antidote for this is empathy,” said Hockley.
The Mount Saint Mary College Center for Adolescent Research and Development (CARD) is a clearinghouse for research initiatives. These include the psychological, social, cultural, educational, and health-related issues endemic to contemporary adolescents and young adults.