Compassion 101.

Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood. (See Wikipedia)

Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. – Buddha

Tootles’ first grade class is learning about compassion at school.  It’s not a “class” or a “subject” to be covered.  It is to instill in each of the students, a fundamental part of their personhood, an understanding of how to behave compassionately.  The school wants the children to embrace compassion as part of them, a way of life. What a beautiful ideal.

If it could be taught.

But can compassion be “taught”?  Or does come only through experience?  Does it only exist where we have felt the pain of others,as Buddha says? Or do we exercise compassion where we provide the shoulder, the ear, the arms of comfort, empathy, and compassion?  If you Google the idea of teaching compassion to children, you can find lots of websites with suggestions and ideas for teaching the concept.  These are some of the ones I liked:

25 Ways to Teach Kids Compassion

Can you really teach compassion?  New Study Says Yes

How to Teach Your Child Compassion

Each week, of all his teachers, it is Tootles’ PE teacher, that sends this home:

Every week our “Compassion Letter” has remained blank.  Because, truthfully?  Tootles does not perform any acts of compassion.  He comes home.  He plays.  He does his homework.  He’s loving.  He’s interactive.  But mostly, he interacts only with his dad and me.  And there’s been nothing to exercise compassion about.  So, we’ve collected those little slips of paper.

I think about them.  They sit around the house as a reminder but nothing happens that has struck me as something to write about.

Until this weekend, when a stark contrast showed me how deeply compassion is tied to who my son knows and what he understands.

This weekend, Tootles’ grandma on his dad’s side had to go to the hospital.  She slipped, fell and broke her hip.  She lives quite far away and so only Tootles’ daddy went to see her.  I stayed at home with Toots.  Tootles’ aunt and uncle (hubs’ sister and brother) were there with him for their mom.  Toots’ Dad and I tried to explain what was going on but Tootles does not know this grandma, like he knows my parents who live close by.  He was confused that it was my mom.  He doesn’t grasp the idea who this Grandma is, much less that Grandma is in a lot of pain and needs “cheering” up.  It’s all too abstract for him.

He did make her a get well card.  He put some stickers of flowers and hearts on it and wrote words, but this was more like an art project he was instructed to do.  It was not from his heart and not initiated by him as his idea.  He did it just the same as he would throw out a piece of paper, or put away a toy, if I asked him.  He’s cooperative but there’s no emotion attached.

Once he made the card and Daddy was gone to deliver it at the hospital several hours away, Tootles and I were alone for most of the day and evening.  He found a small remote control Hot Wheels car and asked me to charge it for him.  I did.  Once it was charged, I handed him the remote (foolishly) and turned the tiny car over to switch it on.  Toots already had pushed the remote trigger and my hair got caught in the moving wheel.

It was freaky because he was pulling more and more of my hair out by keeping the remote going and it hurt!  As I tried to grab it from him, he freaked out more, ran away and pulled harder on the trigger causing more of my hair to be pulled out because he couldn’t let go.  He could see I was being hurt and he was upset but he couldn’t stop or let go.

Surprising how a little car like that can yank chunks of hair out.

I admit it.  I was a baby and the tears came as my hair was ripped.

As soon as Toots saw my tears, he dropped everything.  He wrapped his arms and legs around me and attached himself to me.  He kissed me.  He looked in my eyes.  He said, “Mommy not to cry,”  and wiped my tears with his hand.  He hugged me and held me and would not let go. It was fear, love, devotion and compassion.

He saw it.  He understood and he wanted to make it better. He saw me hurting and the only thing he wanted to do was to take my pain away and make it better.  He has compassion.

Where he doesn’t have compassion? It all goes back to social interaction, social understanding, reading cues, nonverbal communication, recognition.  Once we broaden the world to include more people to which he will form relationships he will broaden his compassion appropriately.

The websites above provide great ideas to help broaden horizons.  There’s no time like the present so we’re starting today.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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6 Responses to Compassion 101.

  1. Lisa says:

    Ouch!! What a huge step for T. So glad he could fill out his form this time…it was an excellent display of compassion.

  2. Wow. Just wow. I’m so proud of T right now.

    I’m going to have to look at those web sites. Granted, T is a little older than Little Miss, but she laughs like crazy any time I get hurt. I actually stifle my reaction when I am hurt around her because she will often try to repeat what caused the pain for more laughs. You’ve given me a big chunk of hope this morning… thank you!

  3. savvyadvocatemom says:

    You made me cry. I am sorry that you had to have the RC car get you to see the compassion you son has for you, but what a great thing to see. My heart goes out to you and Toots.

  4. Karen, I so look forward to the emails that tell me that you have a new post. They are terrific gems. I have to tell you that this is easily my favourite of all the posts you have written. Seeing compassion and empathy demonstrated all depends on where we are standing.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thank you so much Jim! Your words mean the world to me. Again, this school continually impresses me with its efforts to develop and build character as well as teach academics. We are lucky to have found a good fit.

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