This last week we have been thinking about the nature of compassion. Compassion in so many ways is a hard concept to define in simplistic terms and yet looking around us in the world today it is easy to see how important it is to raise children so that they become adults that have love and are compassionate as well as being children that have a handle on these qualities as well. Children need more than a passive example to follow to nurture these attributes in their lives despite the fact that this quality, it is said, is innate to all of us. It is a quality that needs to be brought out in each child and for that reason it is possible and indeed necessary to teach a child how to be compassionate.
But, what is compassion?
Compassion is the ignition of feelings that surpass empathy and care involving the senses through the understanding and connection to another without expectation so that the outcome results in a holistic consideration of that person’s situation. It differs to empathy in the sense that it is more than simply putting oneself in another’s place and is deeper and broader to include a perceptual appreciation of another’s position without assumption or predetermination, bias or judgement without discrimination. It covers the humane qualities of sharing, giving comfort, sympathy, mercy, concern, care and love to name but a few but is unlimited. Principally therefore the essence of true compassion is not founded purely on emotion but also on understanding paving a way to a life that imparts fulfilment, health and happiness. It has been said that compassion is happiness in its highest form.
In a world where anger, hatred and bitterness appear intrinsic to human nature it is sometimes hard to appreciate that each and every human being wants such happiness as much as the next. As Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama said on the subject of compassion and the individual “their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one’s own”. Such universal altruism helps develop a feeling of responsibility for others and it is this that can be imparted to children to nurture compassion in them.
‘The Compassion Triangle’
Here then at R>E>S>E>T we have devised a “Compassion Triangle©” which we believe integrates the sensual development of feelings, understanding and experience to help children become more compassionate through their childhood and into adulthood. It looks something like this in diagrammatic form where each element inter-relates keeping the child central at all times:
Taking each point in term:
This is the process of children seeing parents being kind and compassionate. Parents are like models for their children. Simply saying and not doing is not good enough. They need to act out what they say so that children can copy what they do and ultimately become responsible for their own actions which hopefully will in turn include showing compassion towards others. Volunteering and helping out is a good way to demonstrate compassion as well as sponsoring a child or being involved in other similar programmes. Children can also learn about compassionate people such as Mother Theresa and Ghandi by reading about them in books as well as being less exposed to violence in games and television and movies as already proved in famous studies.
The process of experience allows children to feel compassion as parents behave compassionately towards their children. From the moment children are born they need to be loved and feel secure and recognized for their own uniqueness unconditionally. They also need their parents to stand up for them and know that they have them by their sides as they grow up and take their place in the world in whatever arena that may be from a stance of nurture to one of proactive support. Children also need their parents to listen to them as much as they need to learn to listen to their parents! Listening to children fosters compassion in a way that it gives children the time that shows them that they have worth and value beyond the mundane, that they are special and that their needs are considered and cared about. Children that are heard by their parents know that their parents really do care and experience a compassion that nurtures the latent form that each child is born with yet so many sadly never fully develop.
By exercising compassion children learn to understand how to be compassionate to others around them eg. other children, older people and pets. Helping children understand the way others are, the way they feel and the way they behave will also help develop perceptual vision. Talking to children about what other people may be experiencing or imagining what it might be like to be in their shoes helps them develop a sense of compassion. This could include people in the news who are in war zones or areas that are experiencing natural disasters or those closer to home who are maybe overweight, disabled both physically and mentally. Children can also learn to exercise compassion by caring for a pet. Having responsibility for another life also builds up other lifelong skills too such as empathy, responsibility and maturity even though adults always need to be on hand to help!
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Essentially then by modelling compassion towards others and providing a means of imitation parents demonstrate compassion visually. By showing compassion to their children they help them feel what is like to be on the receiving end of compassion. Finally to encourage a child to exercise compassion attunes their innate sense of compassion and bring out their latent potential to become lifelong compassionate human beings.
To bring out compassion in children takes commitment and perseverance and a dedication from the adults involved in their bringing up. They need hands on love and time from their own parents and/or carers that starts with respect and selflessness and which honours a commitment to developing the practice of compassion so that we can all work to make the world a happy and better place, for as in the words of the Dalai Lama when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”