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Meet our Outstanding Canadians: Mary Gordon



Mary learned the significance of empathy from families in pain. An educator and parenting expert, her work with families struggling with domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect made it clear that the common denominator was an absence of empathy. Mary Gordon created Roots of Empathy, which is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The program reaches elementary school children from Kindergarten to Grade 8. In the Roots of Empathy program, children learn how to challenge cruelty and injustice through messages of social inclusion and activities that are consensus building and, ultimately, contribute to a culture of caring that changes the tone of the classroom.

A trait now understood by neuroscientists to underpin children's healthy social and emotional development, empathy also lies at the heart of peaceful and civil societies. Described as “Canada's olive branch to the world,” Mary’s evidence-based program has received high praise through Michelle Jean who presented Mary with the Order of Canada in 2006. Since Mary initiated Roots of Empathy in 1996, it has reached over 800,000 children, across Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Costa Rica.  Mary Gordon is an Ashoka Fellow and is the recipient of both the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond and Silver Jubilee medals. She was presented with the Manning Social Innovation award in 2011 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Memorial University in 2015.