Last month, in honor of the launch of #1000Speak, I posted a special piece about compassion called Teaching Our Girls About Friendship. Writing on a shared theme and posting on the same day as hundreds of other writers worldwide was a mighty, moving event. Reading so many amazing stories and perspectives inspired me, swelled my heart and put a perma-grin on my face for days. The whole experience got me thinking:
If writing and reading about compassion can have this kind of impact on me, an adult, what can it do for our kids?
I decided to take my curiosity into my daughter’s fourth grade classroom. She attends a Jewish Day School where the value of chesed, or kindness, is one of many intertwined throughout the curriculum. Each class takes on a yearlong service project ranging from caring for animals and respecting the elderly to teaching literacy, caring for the earth and helping people with special needs.
I have no doubt my girls are learning about kindness, both at home and at school, and what it means to do good in the world, but there’s a difference between kindness and compassion. Most of us are born with empathy, the ability to feel for someone else in a sad or scary situation or someone who’s had an awful experience. Our hearts drop; we feel sadness ourselves. But to have compassion means taking our emotions one step further into the realm of action.
What would a group of 9- and 10-year-olds know about compassion?
I started out asking them what they thought the definition of “compassion” was.
We talked about what it means to show kindness to strangers, to find understanding for people who might bully or tease and even what it means to have compassion for ourselves. After our group brainstorming and discussion, I asked them to express what compassion means to them – and that’s when the magic happened.
Collaboration, play acting and story telling happened.
“Once I was walking and my little sister had just gotten a new jacket. There was a little girl, younger than my sister, with her mother and maybe her grandfather. They were begging and instead of throwing the old jacket away, we gave it to the little girl.”
“Compassion, compassion, help someone get better.
“Compassion, compassion, have that feeling in your heart to make it okay.”
“To be a more compassionate person, I will give food to a food bank, help the poor and make sure no one and nothing will get abused.”
Kids know more than we think they know and they know it because their big hearts take in everything they see and hear from us. So much of what the kids said about compassion had to do with us, the grown ups, the teachers, the parents:
“One time, when we were walking to our car from a restaurant, my dad gave our left over food to a homeless person. It was steak. My dad carries around a lot of steak.”
Everything we do, each word we speak, every action we take – or don’t take – even our tone of voice and our facial expressions make an impression on the children in our lives. That day, it was the kids who’d made an impression on me. I was so proud of my daughter and her classmates for their ability to see past differences, recognize need and think about how they can act to make the world a more compassionate place.
This is our future. It’s in good hands.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s prompt is “My proudest moment was…”
This post is also part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion movement where hundreds of writers post about compassion on the 20th of each month.