Our modern media and popular culture don’t reward compassion. It’s all about me; I need to be famous or noticed, often at the expense of others. From “American Idol” auditions to a simple Facebook status update, we are training ourselves and our children to focus on themselves – so how do we change that?
Compassion is defined as feeling deep sympathy or sorrow for those who are suffering as well as a desire to alleviate that suffering for that person.
“Compassion helps us realize people are more alike than different,” says Dr. Jim Taylor, psychologist and author of numerous parenting and sports psychology books. “We work. We play. We raise families.”
Taylor says in his recentvideo post on his website that compassion is composed of three things:
- Thought – “I am not alone in the world.”
- Emotion – “I feel for others and others feel for me.”
- Action – “How can I help others?”
So how do we illustrate this to our kids?
Taylor says it’s both in obvious as well as subtle ways including volunteering your time to help others, and traveling long distances to help family members who need help.
Your children will come to understand the smaller, less obvious acts such as comforting someone who gets hurt, helping out neighbors or taking over dinner when our spouse is stressed out.
Taylor suggests talking to your children about compassion – what it is and why it’s important in the world. He says it is an emotion so people can feel it; it feels good to help others and bring joy to the giver.
Also, tell your children what examples of compassion are such as being nice to siblings or donating clothes or toys to charity. Relief efforts after tragedies are also good examples such as rebuilding New Orleans, giving aid to Haiti or helping with the gulf oil spill clean-up.
Taylor says parents must continually speak about compassion and make it a part of daily life. Continue to give examples and talk about when someone fails to show compassion. Giving consequences for not showing compassion can also help drive home the importance of this emotion.
Compassion also brings on other emotions – love, empathy, pride and kindness – that you can discuss with your children. You also want to talk about the lack of compassion as illustrated in either anger or worse, indifference.
Taylor says we must be make sure, as our children become more immerse in popular culture, that we surround them with compassionate people who can counter-balance the “me” tendencies of popular culture. Also, encourage compassionate acts within your family like helping each other with homework when someone becomes frustrated.
Other examples Taylor gives include family participation in a food drive or tutoring young children. He recommends discussing how each family member feels about these activities so they can recognize these emotions in themselves and know how it feels to be compassionate.
The long-term effects of being compassionate fosters true decency in people, says Taylor, which is a value our popular culture simply does not value or often illustrate. Being compassionate means you are a “wimp, pushover, loser or just a sucker,” he says.
This is actually the opposite of what being a decent person is. Being decent also helps make for strong, independent and willful people. It also makes for kind, gentle and generous people too who are responsive to others’ needs and will give of themselves for others.
The best part, Taylor says, is that everyone benefits from compassion – those who are helping and those being helped. That’s a great equation.
Please learn more about Taylor, his work and his books at www.drjimtaylor.com.