Compassion: what it is and why it’s important
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
When I first heard that Brooksfield’s theme this year is compassion, I was pleased, impressed and, to be honest, a little surprised. When it comes to the qualities that I believe are important to plant in young minds and hearts early, the ones that I, without a doubt, want my children to know well, compassion is definitely on the list. But it’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Gratitude, kindness, politeness, all of these sort of roll of our tongues as we guide our children through hellos and pleases and thank yous. Teaching these comes naturally as we coach social interactions every day. Compassion, however, goes several levels deeper. It’s not a quality we can easily reinforce by a social grace or quick phrase. It takes a little something more.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion
Compassion involves a combination of empathy and altruism. It is an emotional response to suffering and a desire to help relieve that suffering. It goes beyond simply noticing that someone is upset or in pain to doing something about it. It’s not just doing good (donating, volunteering, etc.) for doing good’s sake, it’s doing good because you feel another’s pain and you want that pain to stop. Compassion comes from a place of genuinely wanting someone else to be happy and acting on behalf of his or her happiness over your own. This seems like such a tough concept to teach small children, whose actions are often self-serving. The good news is that research shows that compassion is instinctual. Our first impulse as humans, it turns out, is to help each other. And this is something we can nurture in our children as they grow.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion
Think of how you feel when your little one runs to you, tears flowing, asking you to kiss his newly scraped knee. You want with all your heart to kiss away the pain. And when, after a few cuddles and that magic kiss, he soars back off to play, your heart soars too. You feel happy because you helped him. You eased his suffering. That happiness is a result of your compassion. Doing for others makes us happy. Long-term, compassion can help ward of stress, protect us against depression, decrease cellular inflammation (which is connected with cancer and other diseases) and increase our sense of connection with others (which has it’s own physical and psychological benefits). Compassion, therefore, is another tool we have to raise our children into long, happy lives.
This year at Brooksfield
For the next few months, we’ll be talking about compassion here on the blog, following along as Brooksfield explores this theme. We’ll talk about how to encourage compassion in your family, projects you can do together, and books that you can read to bring the topic home. We’ll cover some ways that you, as parents, can model compassion and ways to help your children test it out among their friends. We’ll dip into some of the compassion-related activities happening at Brooksfield. By the end of the year, we’ll all have a better grasp on compassion and be actively incorporating it into our lives!
Source: The Association for Psychological Science: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/may-june-13/the-compassionate-mind.html