Our Block 2 theme of community, compassion, and kindness puts social and emotional learning into practice.

On Friday we kicked off our Block 2 topic of “Kindness and Service” with a Flex Friday devoted to discussions of and activities about compassion. Students began by writing out their own definitions of compassion and expressing their ideas out loud to the large group. Then we looked at someone else's definition of this concept, that of Pema Chödrön, a famous Buddhist nun and writer:

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

After pulling apart Chödrön's meaning here and discussing the nuances of this definition of compassion, students brainstormed how the concept of gratitude might be related to that of compassion. They suggested that being grateful for the things we receive in our lives helps us to be aware of our “shared humanity” and interdependence—that we are all needy, or “wounded,” in various ways throughout our lives, and that other people need our help just as we have needed theirs.

Reflecting on this idea of gratitude, students were then guided through a short meditation, called the Empty Bowl Meditation, the purpose of which is to open ourselves up to all the things we receive from world and from other people. We were all skeptical of how well it would work, but the Proof students pulled it off with maturity and grace: a roomful of 44 silently meditating kids!

After their meditation, students broke off into smaller groups to consider how to take compassionate action in a variety of specific scenarios.  For example, “Your sister didn’t make the basketball team. You did make the basketball team. Ever since she got the news, she has been snapping at you—saying mean things. Now she is crying in her bedroom, with the door closed. How can you act compassionately in this situation?” The scenarios were purposely challenging, and the students often struggled to come up with what the most compassionate response would be.

Students certainly rose to the occasion, however. Here are a few of the ideas they jotted down during one of the moments for reflective writing:

“The difference between compassion and pity is that compassion is feeling with someone and pity is at someone.”

“I learned than compassion can be expressed by doing little things and big things. Compassion is when you can put yourself in their shoes and try to help them.”

“Compassion is being the same as someone else, giving them comfort in the fact that you are with them”

“It's good to be compassionate, but there has to be a limit. For example, you can't and you don't have to give all your money just to be compassionate.”

“We are compassionate to others even when others are 'bad.' We do it because we are all humans. It doesn't matter how bad they are, we are all equals [….] I have learned two things today: compassion starts with me, and I'm not doing enough.”

-- Sydney Cochran
November 1, 2015