*Today I'm joining the movement #1000Speak for Compassion. Though it's easy to feel like our words are just drops in a bucket, I truly believe that every voice counts, so I share mine with you today. Find the other voices here or search #1000Speak and be inspired.
Compassion. We all know what it feels like, but how do you define it? My favorite explanation states that compassion is caring plus action. We can feel sympathy or even empathy for someone and not be moved to a response. We can help others, but not really care. Compassion is the best of both worlds.
Who and what do we feel compassion for? The elderly neighbor who can't get around easily. The homeless man soliciting money. The dog that's yelled at and beaten. The planet and what modern life is doing to it. The kid who is bullied. The kid who feels alone. The woman who is struggling with a failed marriage. The family that is working as hard as they can, yet still can't make ends meet. The stressed out mom at the grocery store with fussing babies in tow.
In each of these cases, compassion makes us to want to help. But it's up to us to take that first step and actually do something. I know you've been on the receiving end of this, so you know what a difference even small gestures can make.
Compassion = Caring + Action
The great thing is, we naturally have compassion. You see it in small children all the time. They are sad when they see someone else is sad. They want to help when an animal is hurt. They are concerned when they know there is a problem. But beginning in middle childhood and as we get older, I think we are increasingly distracted and I think we build defense mechanisms that keep us from acting when we see there is a need. What keeps us from taking action?
* People haven't helped us.
* Our feelings have been hurt.
* We are too busy and self-involved.
* Others are around and we think they'll help.
* We've experienced rejection when reaching out to someone.
* Society has told us that some people deserve their circumstances.
* We don't want to embarrass the person who needs help but wishes they didn't.
How can we teach our kids to recognize compassion and act on it?
1) Talk about it.
When you watch TV or are in public, you can discuss peoples actions and decide together if they show compassion or what would be a better way if they didn't. At home you can regularly praise and point out when family members act in a caring way. When you are the beneficiary of kindness, verbalize how good it made you feel. Make it a habit during a daily talk time to ask who they helped or showed kindness to and who helped or showed kindness to them.
Making discussions about compassion a regular thing will increase kids' awareness of opportunities to show compassion and encourage them to show it when they know your family values it.
2) Make it fun.
We love to make displays on the wall to show off what we're doing. You could have a poster for the kids to write on like a brag board, or cut out shapes for everyone to jot down their kind actions in a collage. If your kids are younger they might like to make a caterpillar of kindness with each colorful circle added to make the body longer.
Older kids especially may like these Compassion It bracelets. This nonprofit organization is committed to promoting compassion and educating leaders around the world in an effort to "inspire daily compassionate actions and attitudes." The bracelets reversible and when you do something compassionate, you turn it inside out to show the other color. They come in two sizes and are sold in pairs, so you can keep one and share one. Check out the entire Compassion It website. It's an inspiring movement that is changing the world one act of kindness at a time.
3) Find a cause.
In my family, we all have different things that play on our hearts. I'm sensitive to hunger and homelessness, one child cares deeply about animals, another wants to save the planet, another likes to help special needs kids. Talk to your kids and see what larger issues they especially care about.
Animal shelters, food banks, nursing homes... whatever cause speaks to you, find a way to help out. You could volunteer once a month, or quarterly. You could have a change jar and when it's full, or a couple times a year take it to your place of choice to donate or purchase things they could use. Serving others is like exercising. It comes easier to some, but we all feel better when we do it.
Is compassion something you talk about in your family?