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:
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.
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.