Saturday, January 22, 2011


Compassion is my weapon. Compassion is connecting to another person's plight, so that it leads to helping. Compassion is often lumped with pity. And this is not an unfair lumping because compassion can often be twisted into a person just pitying another. Compassion's Latin root means "suffer with."

Pity meanwhile means sorrow for another's suffering. Pity requires no involvement. It is a layering added to what is seen.

Pity makes a person think, "Poor dear," and feel bad when they see a homeless man sleeping under newspaper on a park bench. Compassion makes a person give that man a blanket, offer him food--compassion leads to action. It is massively different from pity, which relies on a self concept.

Compassion is not an easy weapon to wield. It is easy to fall to pity-the thought process to travel between compassion and pity is not long or convoluted-it's a hop, skip, and a jump. There is a great difference between suffering with another and suffering because you see another suffering. One (pity) makes it all about you; compassion obliterates the distinction between me and you. Compassion is actually knowing the experience-having it, too.

There are many pitfalls surrounding compassion.  It is not a tool that many can properly use.  Compassion can trap the other person in it—you feel for them, you share with them, and they become enmeshed with you.  They come to rely on you. 

Compassion is not the same thing as forgiveness.  From compassion, there may be forgiveness—but withholding forgiveness does not make a person uncompassionate.  In fact, not forgiving a person when they have not changed anything may be the most compassionate thing to be done.  Accountability is important, and most people snake away from any responsibility these days. 

It is easy to look at compassion and lump it along with kindness.  But that is to miss what compassion is-to overlook the power there.  Kindness is just doing things to make the other person feel good.  Compassion doesn’t have an end goal of how the person should feel.  Compassion may manifest itself as kindness or harshness or anything inbetween.  Compassion seeks to help-in whatever way it may.

Sympathy is also a trap near to compassion It is sharing and understanding sorrow. There is some overlap here. Compassion encompasses more than just sorrow, though--it applies to the totality of emotions, the whole range. It is connecting to the person-not just in sorrow, but in joy and terror as well.

Sympathy is certainly human-and it is a step above pity. But sympathy still has the fault of separation: you are separate from the one who's in sorrow.

But, ah, compassion! Compassion is commiserating-it is not just observing; it is knowing and experiencing. Compassion without action is useless. In fact, compassion does not exist without action--compassion without action is perhaps sympathy, pity. Compassion is action. Compassion is the embodiment that there is no separation between you or I.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Precious Little Dumplings

                “Oh, it’s okay.  It’s only one F.  it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or dumb.  You just need to work harder; that’s all.  You can do it; you’re so *smart*!”
                There is a serious problem with the approach taken with children.  We tell them that they are inherently beyond value.  It does not matter what they think, say, or do—it has no bearing on that untouchable, immeasurable value.  We tell them that they are brilliant and wonderful-not because of anything they do but just because we don’t want them to feel *BAD* about themselves!
                A little background:  I am a natural teacher; everywhere I go, I teach.  I have a lot of experience with special needs students—those people who have mental, physical, emotional difficulties.  My mother ran a special needs daycare when I was four, so I grew up with a sense of comfort around people that most young children stared at in disgust or confusion.  My entire life I have been sought out to teach—I cannot tell you how many times I have been told “You *have* to be a teacher; you just have to.  We need you.”  I am drawn to teaching; I’m not a teacher now-rather, I work to integrate special education students (from very mild needs to more complex and demanding issues) into mainstream classrooms.  Sometimes I will pull them out and have a completely independent class, but most of the time I aim to keep them within the classroom.  These kids don’t like to be singled out, and I do my best to respect that.  Anyway, the point is I have a lot of experience with teaching, and what I see is so very disheartening.  The American education system is a complete joke, but the problems begin at home long before we get 'em.
                There are students who will openly declare their brilliance, right after receiving multiple graded papers—all Fs –and being told they’re failing.  But they think that they are wonderful little monkeys.  They think they are smart.  And I am not supposed to tell them otherwise.  The workplace culture is that we must nurture the students by bolstering their self-esteem; we must tell them how wonderful they are.  I wonder how many of my coworkers realize the utter absurdity.  Why would I tell a student he or she is smart when he or she is lazy, incompetent, and willfully stupid?
                It has become so bad that we no longer even challenge the students to FIND the answers.  No, finding the answers—learning how to discover the answer on your own—this is a skill wholly beyond my students.  Rather, the challenge is to copy down the right answer—we give it to them now; we say it aloud, we write it on the board, sometimes we even give them a handout with the answers RIGHT THERE.  You would be AMAZED how many can’t even copy down the right answer when it’s given to them.
                Life doesn’t hand you the answer.  You have to work for it.  You have to search for it, often—or at the very least pay enough attention that you get it when it’s handed to you on a silver platter.  But there are so many students who are so lazy and indolent that they can’t even copy down the right answer when it’s given to them.  I think we’re cheating the intelligent students.  We should be making everyone search for the answers.  I don’t think that the students are so stupid that they are unable to find the answers.  I think they’ve been told they’re brilliant so often that they have no clue what that word even means—they have no idea what excellence is.  They don’t even aim for mediocrity anymore—they are happy enough just to scrape by the day and return home to indulge in Jersey Shore and dream of how that’s the life they truly want and deserve. 
                Until we start telling children, “Wow, that was really stupid.” or “You’re lazy.” or “You can do better and so you must,” things will continue on as they have.  I will be surrounded by a sea of stupidity, with no chance of breaking free of it.  Because if you’re stupid but think yourself brilliant, then you will never move beyond your stupidity.  Instead, you will bask in it, thinking it something worthwhile.  And that is what happens with my students:  They think their thoughts and actions worthwhile, and they drown in ignorance.

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