How do we develop compassion? By learning empathy. We become filled with joy when we cherish and seek to aid in the well-being and happiness of others. Empathy and compassion brings us peace of mind and mental calmness. When we come to see that all others are like us; we will have discovered one part of the anti-dote to violence and war. Research is clear that empathy can be taught in schools, and that teaching empathy increases acts of kindness while reducing violence. Why do we not teach it?
Teaching children non-violence and how to handle frustration appropriately is part of the means to a kinder society. Mr. Rogers once again talks to children (and adults) on how to deal with upsetting feelings:
“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
I would add that it takes strength to talk about our anger in ways that does not verbally attack others or make the situation worse. Being able to discuss our hurt and anger without causing more anger and hurt feelings in others is a skill that can be learned. Some people are educated in how to do this by their parents, teachers, or spiritual leaders. Others do not learn this valuable skill and add to the hurt and anger in the world, which then creates drama and even more hurt. For these individuals I would recommend anger management classes or personal counseling with a psychologist to learn this valuable skill. Perhaps we are failing our young people by not giving them this important knowledge in our schools. Learning how to interact with others in ways that helps us get what we need from them and that doesn’t lead to more anger and hurt feelings is a skill that every child and adult needs. Why is this not taught in grade school? Doing so could significantly reduce many of societies problems. I’m talking about learning the difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors; and learning simple communication strategies that allow one person to share what they are thinking and feeling – even anger – in a way that is non-threatening and that helps them get what they want. There are simple communication styles that are learnable and that help reduce drama and anger – these should be taught if we wish to become a less violent and kinder America. Research shows us that these techniques work – we should teach and reinforce them in all our schools and in every grade. If teachers modeled these skills in their daily interactions with kids it would help reinforce them tremendously. We need not wait until kids are adults with failing relationships who then must pay to see a psychologist to teach them these skills. By then too much havoc and misery has been created. Psychology should be integrated into classroom lessons to help kids learn how to disagree in a healthy way and how to stand up for themselves and for their needs without being aggressive or violent.
To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, the kind of society we have will be far more important than the number of aircraft carriers and supersonic bombers we have. If you are content with how cruel and violent American society is then go on living without practicing transformational kindness. The status quo will therefore be maintained. We can do something about violence or we can continue to do nothing. Which do you choose?