by Lesa R. Walker, MD, MPH
We need to act NOW and make a concerted effort to educate current and future generations in the life skills of awareness, critical thinking, and empathy, all of which build and strengthen our compassion. As with any skill (such as reading, speaking a language, playing a sport), the best way to hone our compassion skills is to make such training a priority (at home, work, school, etc.) and to practice daily. The practice must encompass the 3 dimensions of compassion: caring for others, self, and the Earth. One thing can be guaranteed. We grow stronger in what we practice. Strengthening “3D” compassion through daily practice at a personal level will change individual behaviors and generate a collective force, moving us closer to the global goals of peace, health, and environmental sustainability.
A recent (July 18, 2014) article in The Washington Post lends support to this premise. The article, entitled “Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind,” provides recommendations based on the research conducted by Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education. He and other researchers conducted the study as part of the Making Caring Common project to determine how to teach children to be kind. The article quotes the researchers as stating “Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood.”
Five key recommendations are listed:
- Make caring for others a priority;
- Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude (“Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument;” How? through daily repetition and regular practice);
- Expand your child’s circle of concern;
- Be a strong moral role model and mentor; and
- Guide children in managing destructive feelings.
I propose several simple strategies/tools to engage people of all ages and cultures in the daily practice and strengthening of 3-dimensional (3D) compassion (caring for others, self, and the Earth). Below are “Brief Descriptions” of the strategies/tools followed by “Teacher/Mentor/Parent Resources” Essential components shared by each of these strategies are: 1) daily practice (to develop and strengthen a habit of compassion); and, 2) the practice scope including the 3 dimensions of compassion: caring for others, self, and the Earth.
Brief Descriptions of the Strategies/Tools
1. The “Compassion Relays” http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/
Anyone, any age, any place, and any time can participate in the “Compassion Relays." A Compassion Relay starts when a person takes up the “Compassion Torch” (this can be an imaginary Torch or a tangible design/emblem). When the Torch is taken, the person agrees to discover or do an act of compassion (caring for others, self, or the Earth) each day for a minimum of seven days, record a summary of the week’s experience, and pass on the Torch to another person or persons so the Relays continue. The “Compassion Relays” are part of the Compassion Games International (http://compassiongames.org/) and are also promoted by the Charter for Compassion International (http://charterforcompassion.org/). The “Compassion Relays” website provides instructions and guidance for individuals and groups (schools/classrooms, businesses, community groups/organizations, and governmental entities).
The Relays help people to:
- exercise intentional awareness and empathy (caring for others, self, and the Earth);
- experience self-worth through compassionate action;
- recognize the impact and importance of daily compassionate choices;
- strengthen compassion and make it a habit through daily practice;
- generate ideas for compassion activities that continue;
- take personal ownership of and responsibility for compassion; and
- become part of a ripple effect (spreading compassion to others).
2. The “Compassion Today!” mobile app http://www.charterforcompassion.org/index.php/compassion-today-a-new-mobile-app-for-3d-compassion
The app is FREE and offers a wide array of compassion resources to inspire and support daily practice. It has 1) daily quotes, news, and action tips; 2) the "3 Daily Questions" exercise; 3) functionality to allow sharing via social media/email; and 4) direct links to calendars/events, the Charter for Compassion International, Compassion Games, Compassion Relays, Compassion Mapping, extensive web resources, Internet search, videos, audio/podcast playlists, "100 Questions," Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds, and Google+ links.
Exploring and using the app on a daily basis is also a simple way to participate in the Compassion Relays.
[I would love to see teachers/mentors/parents develop a habit of using the app for their own inspiration and the inspiration of children and youth. As noted above, the app offers an abundance of resources for the daily practice of 3D compassion. The "3 Daily Questions" exercise is great for children and youth as well as adults and the "100 Questions" provides another source of daily questions. Simply by making a habit of posing and highlighting these questions, teachers/mentors/parents awaken students' awareness, learning, and accountability to the daily practice of "3D" compassion.]
3. The “3 Daily Questions” exercise
This exercise is included in the “Compassion Today!” mobile app.
The exercise is to ask 3 simple questions at the start and end of each day. The 3 morning questions awaken awareness:
- What will I do today to care for others?;
- What will I do today to care for myself?; and,
- What will I do today to care for the Earth?
At the end of the day, the 3 questions give honor to the day:
- What did I do today to care for others?;
- What did I do today to care for myself?; and,
- What did I do today to care for the Earth?
In these questions, the word “do” includes thinking, learning, appreciating, experiencing, performing an action e.g. reading an article or book, watching a video, gardening, recycling, writing a letter or poem, drawing, singing, saying a kind word, etc.
Though these are simple questions, they are some of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. The answers to these questions impact our lives, our communities, and our world.
1. Compassion Relays- Logistics for Classrooms and Youth Groups http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/
Taking the Torch: Youth “take the Torch” the minute you and your class or group decides to do the Relays. As an option, you may highlight the start of the Relays by having youth create a symbol of the Torch and place it in your classroom or bring it to the place where your youth group meets. You may want to announce the Relays via a bulletin board, website, newsletter, etc.
* Examples of symbols of the Torch: A drawing or picture of a Torch (you can use the Relays logo), a hand-made Torch, a banner, a bulletin board, etc.
Carrying the Torch: Youth “carry the Torch” by noting each day for at least one week their thoughts and acts for compassion.
* Each day for 1 week, set a regular time and place for youth to write/draw, etc. athought or act of compassion (can be any time- when they arrive, at a break time, computer time, etc.)
* Have materials for writing/drawing available (pencils, pens, crayons, paper, computer,mural paper, chalkboard, journals, computer, etc.)
* Honor/encourage the youth’s daily acts and celebrate at the end of the week.
* Examples of simple ways to do the Compassion Relays with youth
- Have each youth keep a personal daily journal for 1 week; or,
- Have each youth create a personal folder/scrapbook with their drawings/writings/ cut-out pictures from magazines/ photos that express their thoughts/acts of compassion each day for 1 week; or,
- Engage youth in a class/school /group project that involves compassion for others, self, or the Earth. Work on the project a little each day and have each youth write/draw about what they do/learn each day for 1 week; or,
- Create a compassion mural or banner- youth write/draw on the mural/banner each day for 1 week; or,
- Do a “show and tell.” Each day youth are given homework to find a photo or video that shows an act of compassion (caring for others, self, or the Earth) and then each morning 1-2 youth share with the class/group; or,
- Post the “3 Daily Questions” (see brief description above) each day and have youth write/draw their answers; or,
- Post a question each day from the “100 To Do List for Peace” or the “100 To Do List for Green-Living” or the “100 To Do List for Health” and have youth write their answers as their action for compassion for the day; or,
- Have youth write down their thought/act for compassion each day on a slip of paper and drop it off with the teacher/youth group leader before they leave for the day.
- Engage youth in a “treasure hunt” to discover things happening in their home, school, community that show compassion. Each day ask youth to find 1 thing and tell you about it or write it down so you can discuss it at the end of the week.
- Have older youth download the Compassion Today! mobile app (see below) and use it each day to discover something new about compassion and write about what they learn.
Passing on the Torch: Youth, teachers, and youth leaders “pass on the Torch” when they invite others to do the Relays. Just give a personal message about the Relays along with the following link: http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/.
* Examples of simple ways to pass the Torch
- Hand-to-hand: youth can simply go talk to another youth or class and invite them to do the Relays or youth may want to create and pass on a symbol of the Torch (a hand-made torch, drawing or picture, the Relays logo image, banner, flag, badge, special symbolic gift, etc.)
- Mail: youth can send a letter, postcard, email invitation.
- Social media: Teachers, school administrators, and adult youth group leaders may invite others to participate via social media, e.g. posting the Relays logo along with a personal invitation and the link to the Relays: http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/
Sharing/reporting: At the end of the week (or daily if you wish), submit a brief comment/report to the Compassion Map. Share some of the youth’s daily thoughts/acts of compassion and briefly describe the week’s experience (what youth learned, impact, etc.). Also, you may report on your own, personal one-week journey. Be sure to indicate your school or youth group name and city when entering your report. In addition, you may want to highlight and share your Compassion Relays experience via your website, newsletter, social media, and other communications.
Orientation for Youth
- Talk about the definition of compassion. Briefly emphasize the importance of the 3 dimensions of compassion (compassion in caring for others, caring for self, and caring for the Earth). Ask youth “How do we help others? How do we help the Earth? How do we stay healthy? and let them respond. When they do this, they see how easy it is to discover and practice compassion. Explain that the Compassion Relays are like a game or exercise that helps us practice and grow stronger in compassion (just like practicing reading, music, or a sport);
- Share some of the “Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion” (see below). Emphasize “positive” thoughts and acts. We are practicing thinking and doing things that make the world better- caring for others, caring for ourselves, and caring for the Earth. A positive thought or act is not a complaint. If we don’t like something, what can we think or do to make it better?
- Describe how the Compassion Relays work: what youth will do, when it starts and ends, and what happens at the end (e.g. celebration/award). Provide a simple handout for youth to give their parents (see “Parent Handout” below).
Parent Handout (Sample)
We are starting a fun event called the “Compassion Relays”. During this 1-week program, we help youth strengthen compassion in 3 key ways (caring for others, caring for themselves, and caring for the Earth). Youth will be asked to think and do positive things that help make the world a better place. We want them to realize that every positive step they take matters.
Each day of the week, youth will write (or they may create art/photos/videos) to express a thought or act of compassion. To do this, they will be paying close attention to what they do and what others do to care for others, stay healthy, and care for the Earth. We encourage you to support them in these habits of positive “thinking and doing” in their daily lives. A simple tip is to make it fun. Join with your child in a fun treasure hunt every day to discover compassion in your daily life. We want to make it a simple and fun habit.
We welcome your support in this! Thank you!
**Attach the “Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion” below.
Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion
Compassion/caring for others
1. Today I helped a friend who was upset. I listened to her feelings.
2. I watched a video (name the video) that showed people caring for others.
3. I helped wash and dry the dishes after our family ate supper together.
4. I read a book to my grandmother who has difficulty seeing these days.
5. My friend worked hard to help me on a school project.
More: Share something with someone, say “thank you” to your teacher or parent, give a hug, say something to make someone feel better, think of a project to help with hunger or poverty, give food to a food pantry, learn ways to care about others, read about the Nobel Peace Prize, do a kind act, be helpful, listen politely when someone is talking, show you are grateful. Notice what other people do to care for others.
Compassion/caring for self
1. I took a walk to get some exercise.
2. I tried a new, healthy food today: [name the food].
3. I practiced meditation.
4. I learned some new ways to calm down when I get upset [explain]
5. I drew a picture about what makes me happy.
More: Brush your teeth, ride your bike, rake up leaves, read about how to stay healthy, exercise by playing a sport, play outside, run a race, skip, skate, swim, clean your room, eat less candy, visit someone who is sick, tell a joke to make someone laugh, give a hug, get plenty of sleep. Notice what others do to care for themselves.
Compassion/caring for the Earth
1. I used recycled paper for my journal writing.
2. I did some planting/weeding in a garden.
3. I read about clean energy.
4. I took photos of beautiful things I saw in nature.
5. I learned about an organization that helps the environment.
More: Plant a tree, pick up and throw away some trash, save some paper, make a place to recycle things, put things in the recycle, use only the water you need and not more, use only the paper you need and not more, plant a seed, help water a plant, help with gardening, learn about plants, trees, and animals and what makes them healthy, read a book or see a video about helping plants, trees & animals, see the beauty of the day, enjoy a walk outside, learn what the word “organic” means, write down what you think would make the earth more healthy, write a story about an animal, pick up your room. Notice what others are doing to care for the Earth.
2. Compassion Today! App- Logistics for Use with Older Students and Adults http://charterforcompassion.org/compassion-today
Have older students/adults download the app (it’s free) and/or download it on a computer or tablet available at the school. Over a predetermined period of time (X # of days), ask them to use the app each day to discover something new about compassion (in others, in themselves, etc.) and write down a quick description of what they discovered and whether it involves caring for others, self, or the Earth or a combination of these dimensions of compassion. At the end of the time period ask them to turn in their work along with a description of their compassion discovery experience.
3. The “3 Daily Questions” Exercise- Logistics for Classrooms
See the brief description of the exercise provided above. Each day write on the board or provide a handout with the 3 daily questions (for the start of the day and for the end of the day). Call attention to the questions at the start and the end of the day and provide a few minutes for children/youth to think about them and write/draw something. Optional: provide a quick example to demonstrate the importance of “3D” compassion. Have children/youth keep a notebook in which they write/draw or keep a folder in which they collect what they write/draw each day in response to these questions. Make sure occasionally to ask the children/youth to share with you some of their answers. Honor the children/youth’s efforts and reinforce the significance of this practice.
Illustration of hands and globe, Unity of Global Signing by Nancy Rourke.