Compassion comes in many forms. Whether it’s saving an injured animal, helping an old lady carry her heavy grocery bags, or getting to know the new kid who’s being ignored. It can be considered acts of kindness, but compassion goes way deeper than every day kindness. It’s an innate ability to understand the other side and to not judge. It’s hard for a lot of people to feel compassion but children are the starting point to learning why it’s such an important trait.
Growing up, my mom and my grandmother were model citizens of compassionate beings. They would not only tell me about being compassionate, but they would show me in their daily acts. At first, I didn’t truly understand it – I just thought it was normal to be kind to the “weird-looking” kid at school or to help an injured butterfly away from her predators. Then again, I was a child and I didn’t know a lot about how the world worked and why. But as I grew older and wiser, I remembered the lessons of compassion that my grandmother showed me and explained in story form – after all, it was easier for a child to understand through storytelling then saying “why you have to do this, or that”. Kids are born kind and innocent and it’s that innocence that can be so magical and wonderful and yet can be completely exploited. That’s why it’s doubly important to have good influences around your children since children are basically like sponges – soaking everything up around them.
So how do you teach compassion, you may ask? First of all, you have to understand it yourself. Compassion isn’t usually rewarded or praised or even recognized. Compassion comes from within and no one should really tell you to feel it or do something compassionate – it should be learned through important life lessons. Many adults nowadays don’t even know what compassion is – since the daily stress of life can put a toll on your kindness meter. Sure they may think of Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama as compassionate individuals and they truly are – but their compassion was innate and learned through hard lessons in life. We can all learn how to be more compassionate and more understanding. It may not be easy to do in this day and age, so that’s why it’s incredibly important to teach kids about it now.
For the most part, I became a vegetarian because of my compassion for animals. I witnessed at a very young age the abuse that was inflicted upon an innocent animal and from then on, my instincts told me not to eat animals – because I didn’t want them harmed. And back then, a vegetarian kid wasn’t necessarily the coolest thing to do. But I didn’t become a vegetarian because it was cool or uncool. I just became one because I felt the compassion for innocent animals being harmed for no particular reason.
I was reminded of an occasion when being compassionate would have been the better choice. Several years ago I had a co-worker who was overly demanding, complained constantly, and was always grouchy at work. To say the least, she was very hard to work with and she had problems communicating her needs without being rude and abrasive. When I told my mom about how my co-worker was affecting my work and life, my mom reminded me to try to find out if there were problems in my co-worker’s life and that’s why she was so difficult to work with. Well, it was either her or me, so I decided to heed my mom’s advice and tried to get to know my co-worker better (although I admit it wasn’t easy to do). As I found out, my co-worker was often ignored growing up and her parents doted on her brother all the time, thus causing her to be bitter and very unhappy as she grew up. I realized that maybe that was why my co-worker was so hard to work with and as I got to know her better, I noticed a change in attitude in her. She became nicer, more accommodating, and even smiled when she talked. I thought to myself at the time – was this a result of my being more compassionate to her and trying to understand her? Maybe. Either way, I looked at it as helping her getting out the better side of herself rather than her being stuck in her destructive shell.
We don’t always realize when a situation arises where our ability to be compassionate takes over. It could be helping a stranger stand up from a bad fall. It could be helping those in need. It could be watering a dried up plant. It could also be understanding an obnoxious co-worker. No matter what, the best ways of teaching others about compassion is to show it yourself. It may not always be easy but it will come out when necessary. I try to teach my son to be compassionate whenever possible. My mom always told me that teaching your children important life lessons are best when they are not in that situation, rather when they are calm and in a learning state. Whenever my son and I are walking around our neighborhood or at the park, sometimes we’ll see an injured bee on the ground and I’d tell my son that we should not hurt it further, rather, move the bee somewhere safe if possible. I wanted him to understand that it wouldn’t be right to further injure someone who is already hurt – rather, help them if possible. After all, it could go both ways: either he learns to help the injured bee or step on it. I’ve seen other kids older than him torture animals and I often wonder where they learned to do that. Was it instinct or learned?
Sometimes I wonder if bullies become bullies because they weren’t shown compassion or they never learned about compassion. Bullies don’t consider other people’s feelings and they project their own anger onto others. Perhaps if they were shown some kind of compassion at a point in their lives then the turning point from good to bad would never have happened. After all, we learn from our own personal experiences and from what others show us. It saddens me when I see school-aged kids finding joy in torturing and bullying other kids their age. And then they wonder why they have no real friends – only other bullies who end up in trouble along with them.
So when is a good time to learn and teach about compassion? First of all, I believe it should start at home with the parents. If parents are good examples of not deliberately being hurtful to one another and to their children, then their children will see that form of kindness and respect. Then, parents should make it important that their children hang around other good examples – people who do not hurt others for sheer pleasure and personal gain. When we’re too selfish or want something for personal reasons, our good judgement flies out the window and feelings eventually get hurt.
Although it’s not easy to always know when to use compassion, we should always try to remember that although there are weaker beings out there, it does not mean that we must weaken them more. Instead, we should show compassion to their hindrances so that someday, hopefully, they can become better beings as well. So whether it’s an injured animal that needs our help or an old lady with her grocery bags, compassion comes in any form and can be tested upon us at any time. Being compassionate doesn’t mean we have to be softies or bend to the will of others. It simply means that we can transcend beyond what is considered good or evil and do what is cosmically moral.