Compassion may be one of the most important words in the human lexicon regardless of the language. But It is also a word that is rarely used with its full meaning.
At its essence, compassion is a profound term that means to suffer with. It requires profound empathy, understanding, identification, and engagement. From this perspective, compassion is really only earned through full honest engagement, expression, making mistakes, and responsible examination of the unacceptable parts of ourselves that we project onto those we judge.
Unfortunately, that’s not how most of us use the word compassion. Our association with the word starts in our childhood. Parents use the concept to quiet children and they usually use it too early in the child’s life. It most often means, ignore or suppress your real feelings. “Be strong, think about those less fortunate than you,” is a prime example of early training. When the child is learning to integrate feelings of anger, criticism, and empathy, it tells the child that what they are feeling is not OK. Unconsciously the parent is communicating that something bad or wrong with the child for having these thoughts and feelings. This does harm to the child’s self-esteem and self-concept and reduces the capacity for honesty and full contact in later life as he or she suppresses true feelings and, as a result, fails to develop fully, sweeping judgments and reactions under the carpet rather than growing in empathy and understanding.
Rather than trying to “teach” our children compassion. We need to focus on helping the child understand others. Understanding naturally leads to empathy and is more likely to support the development of a life full of diverse engagements. Along with this more open approach, the child naturally develops regret and remorse at overly critical or hostile expressions, mistakes of perception are more readily acknowledged and the child matures nicely.