Crossing the Divides

Our country is divided not only in terms of which presidential candidate we supported or which policies we support, but on a much more fundamental level. We differ on what it means to be a human being. We differ in our root beliefs, our understanding of the human mind, the self, and reality. It is a difference in the way of thinking and speaking with others, in activities we engage in, in our view of what a democracy is. It is not simply a matter of income, class or color, although I think income inequity and racism are central causes and indications of division. It is spiritual, intellectual and emotional. It is not a divide between one religion and another, or religious versus secular, but runs right through all such groupings. The differing sides all feel that the other, or one of the others, threatens the world itself. This makes extreme actions appear possible or even necessary.

 

Karen Armstrong, author, religious scholar, and former nun, provides an important perspective on one issue dividing our land. In 2005, talking about the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism, she said it is wrong to even speak of conducting a war on terrorism, because it is really a religious war, one form of fundamentalism versus another. Fundamentalism is a desire to return to the fundamental values, the original state of a religion. It interprets religious doctrine literally and calls for strict adherence to such doctrine. Truth is solid, fixed, and absolute and tolerance of the “other” can be considered sin. In our world today, there is a “mushrooming worldwide religious fundamentalist revolt against modernity and secularism.” She said, “We are creatures who seek transcendence… We’re meaning-seeking creatures, we fall easily into despair.” Thus, religion has always had a place in human affairs and even the appearance of assaulting religion can have dire consequences.

 

But, she says, there is “good” religion and “bad.” “Bad” suffocates the sacred and the search for meaning and truth in dogma and rules. “Good” religion is compassion and the experience of dethroning the ego at the center of your world and finding another person or something bigger than your self there. This good religion is not anti-intellectual; it recognizes that understanding deep truths is a matter of feeling, imagination, as well as rationality. For example, some religions consider experience, rational analysis, and wisdom essential to religion. The Dalai Lama, for example, said “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

 

Religion is not usually a consciously chosen belief. It can be foundational to one’s sense of self, culture and reality. To threaten religion is to threaten the world itself. Bad religion considers any statement, factual or otherwise, that is contrary to their religious position not only an untruth or lie, but dangerous. This can include science. Armstrong also argues that especially in nations like the US, where there is so much violent imagery in the media and entertainment, the reaction against secularism can be violent. “Whenever religion is allowed to enter political debate, positions become more rigid and absolute.” And when religion is threatened, fundamentalist membership and action increases and bad religion replaces good.

 

George Lakoff, in his wonderful book, The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, provides another way to frame the divide in our nation. In America, we often use the metaphor of the nation as a family. Yet, Republicans and Democrats have a very different notion of the nature of that family, or what should be that nature. The Republicans think of the nation as needing to conform to a “strict father” model. The Democrats think of needing a “nurturant parent” model. This is, of course, a simplification of both the reality and Lakoff’s analysis, but it provides a general overview of the theory.

 

The strict father family thinks of the world “as a dangerous place…because there is evil out there in the world.” It is competitive, there is absolute right and wrong, and children, when “bad,” are born bad. So a strict father is needed to protect and teach the children. Children need to be obedient and learn discipline, and be punished when disobedient. Without discipline, the world would go to hell. If you are wealthy, it means you are disciplined. Reality dictates that if you work for your own selfish motives and success, everyone will benefit. If you try to help someone else, be compassionate, and try to nurture others, you interfere with his or her own self-discipline, and undermine self-interest. According to this reasoning, the rich are good, the poor are bad. These metaphors and beliefs translate into domestic and foreign policies that maximize the value of the rich pursuing their self-interest.

 

Democrats and progressives are likely to believe in a more gender-neutral parent model. Any gender is equally responsible for, and capable of, raising children. Children are born basically “good” or full of potential and can be nurtured to be better. You need empathy, so you can know better what your child needs. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. You need a sense of responsibility and commitment, not only for your family but your community, country, and world. You want your child to be fulfilled in life, happy. You value freedom, fairness, service, cooperation, and trust.

 

To speak across this great divide, you must use language that reflects the values others hold dear and does not threaten their religion. To tell another person they are just wrong or their ideas are evil, you strengthen the idea you oppose in the mind of the person you are talking to.

 

These are just two different perspectives out of many. We’re multidimensional and complex beings. Progressives can be closeted conservatives and conservatives can be closeted progressives. So instead of just attacking those who disagree with you, use the language and metaphors that they value in order to expose the implications or perspective they hadn’t considered. According to Lakoff, the Republican and conservative message is that Democrats, liberals and progressives are weak, angry, and softhearted, so be sincere, respectful, calm, and hold your ground. Re-frame any story anyone tries to use against you in order to illustrate that your point of view and your values show you, too, love your country. You, too, want security, opportunity, and freedom, just as they do. You agree more than you disagree. The road to the freedom and stability that conservatives’ value highly must merge with the road to equity and compassion you value highly.

 

*You might find this recent post on the election by George Lakoff extremely useful.

Compassionate Critical Thinking

My book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in September or October, 2016. My intention is to bring teachers and other readers inside a classroom to witness instructional effectiveness with increased student participation and decreased classroom stress. The act of teaching is turned into a transformational practice. Teachers can’t add more minutes to a school day, but with mindfulness they can add depth to the moments they do have with students in the classroom. I introduce core concepts and simple practices of mindfulness.

 

When students feel a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives, particularly in school, they resist learning. They fight back against meaninglessness and anything they deem a threat to their dreams. Using mindfulness and a Socratic style of inquiry changes the classroom dynamic. Self-reflection, insight, empathy, and compassion are used to teach subject material. Vignettes capture dialogue between teacher and students to illustrate how mindfulness practices elicit essential questions which stimulate inquiry and direct discovery. What bigger mystery is there—what more interesting and relevant story—than the story of one’s own mind and heart and how they relate us to the world?

 

My purpose in writing this book is to show teachers how to turn their intentions and goals into a classroom culture of compassionate critical thinking. Many books teach mindfulness, but few provide a model for integrating it into the classroom to teach critical thinking across the curriculum. I hope this book does justice to the courage, brilliance, joy and struggles of the students who inspired it and the Lehman Alternative Community School which gave me both the opportunity to find a sense of purpose in my life and to contribute positively to the lives of others.

 

To learn more about compassionate critical thinking, please subscribe to my weekly blog. And to learn more about the book and its release, please sign up for my (infrequent) newsletter.

 

 

Recognize the Web of Life

 

I heard on the news of the deaths of 12 people in Paris, the cartoonists, editors and writers of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and I don’t know how to live with these deaths. Maybe if it were just this one incident, not the deaths and bombings that followed, not ISIL, not the deaths in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Israel, Palestine. Maybe if it were just this one time I could come up with a story to tell myself, of people who, perhaps, lived lives of such desperation and hopelessness that, in their eyes, they weren’t killing other people at all. They were defending an idea, they were creating hope. Or maybe they told themselves the cartoons hurt too much and they needed the pain to stop. Or maybe they told themselves their religion, their reality was threatened and they had to destroy the threat.

 

 

 

But the explanation doesn’t work. And for good reason. Nothing can justify or explain away their deaths. All over the world, there are too many such deaths, too much pain. For example, in the US there’s New York City. Not just 9/11, but Eric Garner. Deaths of African-Americans by police and deaths of police, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. To kill someone is not just emotion burning out of control. A story was needed to fuel that emotion and keep it hot.

 

 

 

Humans have lived for thousands of years by creating an in versus an out-group. We live with, cooperate with, love the in-group and often de-humanize the out-group.  We do this with stories or narratives we tell ourselves about us and them. We can’t afford to do this anymore. There are over 7 billion of us now and we’re growing exponentially. This leads to increasing complexity in human relations (and, of course, increasing stress on resources). We cannot continue to support a way of thinking and acting that deals with problems mainly by defining villains to defeat. Or deals with problems by thinking we can just cut ourselves from or discard millions or billions of other humans. We can no longer discard people with a story. Somehow, we must learn, I must learn, how to feel each killing that I hear about with a raw and unexplainable emotion.

 

 

 

Honestly, I don’t know if I can do this. I think it’s too much. It would be overwhelming. How could I work and play when I feel so openly? Even writing this blog is telling a story of sorts.  My work and play and loving can also get covered over or diluted by stories. But isn’t my heart bigger than my thinking? What if my family or friends worked at Charlie Hebdo? Or I lived in Syria, Iraq or my family was killed in New York or Israel? There is no explanation big enough for that pain.

 

 

 

The closest I can come is justice. I shudder to bring it up, as I don’t want to even appear to be diluting murder with economic analysis, but there needs to be justice for the slain, and justice for the conditions that might have contributed to the slaying. People are discarded, dehumanized through economic and political processes even more than by the gun. For one example, when wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, more and more people are ignored. In the US, real income for all but the top few has gone down since 1978-80. A few days ago, I was watching Robert Reich’s movie, “Inequality For All.” Today, 400 people in the US have more wealth than half of the rest of the population. This trend is worldwide. One billionaire means a million people barely getting by. One billionaire doesn’t buy what a million individuals could buy. Concentrating wealth doesn’t create jobs; it undermines the middle class and the whole economy. What are the implications of a collapse of the middle class and the swelling in size of the ranks of the poor? What happens to people living in poverty who get to see on television everyday the rich living in luxury?

 

 

 

Maybe, if we allow our hearts to feel the pain that others feel, and the pain that dehumanization brings, there would be fewer killings? I don’t know for sure, but it feels right. The only explanation that is viable and works for me to keep my heart alive, is that all of us—all humans, all species, all life—we’re all equally alive. There is no out-group. That’s myth, story. The reality is that we are all in this together. We are all interdependent. To borrow an image from ancient India, we are in a huge web (or net, as in Indra’s net). The world webs together. It’s not even that a tug in this section of the web is felt way over there. It’s the whole universe crawling, walking, screaming, dancing as one. And we need an education in web-being, or as the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh put it, inter-being.

 

 

 

A Compassionate Curriculum Part A: Teaching Our Nature

Mindfulness and compassion practices are wonderful, but what’s even more important is embedding compassion in the structure of the school and the curriculum. So, how do you do that? What needs to be included in a curriculum so students are more likely to graduate as compassionate human beings?

 

A curriculum that teaches compassion should start with “big questions,” especially those chosen or verbalized by students. In that way, students will feel heard and thus more inclined to listen. They will then look at the school as part of themselves, not as something totally separate. As discussed in an earlier blog, creating a curriculum out of big questions gives students not only an understanding of issues they consider important but the sense that they can figure out for themselves how their actions can serve a useful purpose.

 

Next, the curriculum needs to directly face a question that students in several of my classes often raised: what are we humans? What is it in our nature to be? We say things like, “it is just human nature to do x, y, or z.” What could that mean? Students often assume that humans have a “nature” and having a “nature” means that you can’t help but enact that nature. Your nature is fixed, in your DNA. But what exactly is fixed? And what would having such a fixed nature imply? Since there is so much violence and suffering in the world, how can it be our nature to be compassionate? This question is a mirror of another old philosophical question: If God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world?

 

One book that could be a resource for a secondary school curriculum on compassion is The Compassionate Instinct. This book explores scientific evidence and philosophical arguments for compassion. In the first essay, Dacher Keltner makes the point that “human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature.” When you assume something about your nature, you act in accord with that assumption. To talk about human nature is to talk about who you are as a person, who you are as a friend or loved one, parent or child. It is not simply an intellectual question. It affects the whole way you relate to others and live your life. Students need to look for the larger dimensions and implications of their questions, and teachers need to understand the implications of the material they teach and their pedagogy.

 

Keltner argues that compassion is “rooted in our brain and biology, and [is] ready to be cultivated for the greater good.” It is in us, as a possibility. It can be developed—or subverted. Our brains are plastic in that they are continuously rewiring to some degree. We change according to our experience and education. Learning means change. Even the expression of DNA depends on experience. Maybe how we think about our nature is both a result of our nature and at the same time helps form that nature.

 

How do you relate to suffering, or to the awful, the holocausts, genocides, wars, and death? When students, and teachers, read about something awful like violence, murders and even the devious manipulations of political leaders now or in the past, they might say, “Ah, yes. Just what I expected.” Others, “I don’t want to hear about it.” It is difficult to allow yourself to be in the middle between assuming the worst of people and wanting to hide.

 

In history, it is easy to overemphasize the horrors that humans have perpetrated and to leave out the good. To talk about Hitler and forget Asoka. The good is often seen as inconsequential, banal or everyday; yet without this everyday counterweight to what we consider evil, we could not go on. This is not “inconsequential” but the most consequential. For example, students in one of my classes claimed that humans are not cooperative. I then asked them, how did you get to school this morning? Why didn’t all the cars on the road crash into each other? I continued: Name all the different people you can think of who contributed to making your lunch. In our school, this was a very visible subject as one group of students helps cook the lunch for the school and another grows some of the food. Students went on and on, surprising themselves with the result, naming teachers who instructed students on how to cook the food, farmers and truckers and people who made the forks and spoons. After just a few minutes, it seemed that everyone and everything contributed to their lunch. Instead of disconnection, students learned about interdependence, which in turn opened the door to the possibility of compassion.

 

Teachers might claim they value compassion and have empathy for their students and others. Yet, if they teach that selflessness is a myth, that we are born to put competitiveness and greed before other ways of being, they undermine that claim. For example, take science or social studies teachers who discuss evolution and have students read portions of Darwin’s  The Origin of Species but not The Descent of Man. Psychologist and evolution theorist David Loye points out that Origin spells out the theory most people associate with Darwin, that through random variations in genes and “natural selection” the best organisms are picked out to survive while the rest are discarded. Such a choice has led to theories about humans being naturally aggressive, that competition is necessary for survival, even that there is such a thing as a “selfish gene.” In Descent, Darwin applies his theories to human beings and, I think, leaves us with a very different message than he did in Origin. He speaks more about “mutual aid,” ethics or morality, and love than about “the survival of the fittest.” He speaks about helping others, even the weak, out of “sympathy.” So, should we teach both books? And which book gives us more incentive to act in an ethical or a compassionate manner?

 

We need to let the light in. Especially when the subject is difficult, we need to hold the reality, even the difficult and painful reality, in our arms for a second; to listen to what has to be said without jumping to a conclusion or running to hide.

 

There are specific characteristics of being human, for example, our shape, the fact that we normally have two legs, two arms, and two eyes. Our brain and senses obviously allow us to do some things but not others. We can walk on our own two feet but not fly with (just) our feet. Most of us can perceive a variety of colors but none of us can perceive ultraviolet light. If we could see ultraviolet, just think how our experience might change. But is our nature something different from a description of what our mental and physical equipment makes possible? Or should I ask: Does our physical and mental equipment make it possible for us to have meaningful choices in how we act? Is the most important thing about our nature the possibility that we have a choice about how we use our equipment? That we can choose to be either compassionate or hurtful?

 

The question of what does it mean to be a human being is a crucial question for students to raise in our classes and for teachers to address directly. Hidden in the question is the recognition that who we are is about who we choose to be. Who do you choose to be? What would you choose to teach?

Sharing Compassion

It is fairly easy to be kind and compassionate to those we care for. It is not too difficult to be kind to strangers or those we just met. To be kind to those we don’t like or actively hate feels like a contradiction. We often imagine that kindness is only for those we want to embrace, not those we want to yell at or never see again. But to be kind to those we dislike changes our whole way of responding to events in our life. When we allow ourselves to simply notice the feeling of “I don’t like this” or “I don’t like you,” without holding on to that feeling or automatically acting on it, then we can break conditioned behaviors. We can just recognize the thought or feeling and move on. We become flexible in our thinking and less burdened by hurtful feelings.

 

How do we share this with our students and ourselves? Here is one practice. The idea is to develop the ability to imagine, “feel with” and care about another person’s inner state. Alfie Kohn said that compassion is not just to imagine what its like to be in another person’s shoes but “what its like to have their feet.”

 

Start, as with other mindfulness practices, by calming and focusing the mind.

 

Sit up, near the edge of the chair, so your back is straight but not rigid. Close your eyes partly or fully. Then turn your attention inwards to your breath. Exhale, noticing how the diaphragm works to push out the air. Then notice the inhalation, how the diaphragm expands downwards on its own, and air comes in. Just notice this. Notice what it feels like to breathe in, to refresh yourself. And breathe out, focusing on the breath and letting go of thoughts or images.

 

Notice the quality of your awareness and attention. Is your mind clear or foggy? Focused or wandering? Awake or tired?

 

As you breathe in, let a friend or someone you get along with well come to mind. Just imagine him or her, or let descriptive words about the person come to you. Notice their face, mouth, hair, eyes. Notice how they look at you, their expression.

 

Then notice their whole body, how they stand, their shoulders, hands. Do they stand straight?  Are they relaxed or stiff?

 

Then go inside. What do you think this person is feeling? What clues can you get from their expression and from their posture about what they are thinking or feeling?

 

In this subtle way, you can teach students about reading another person, reading their body language and facial expression, which is one form of empathy.

 

Now imagine giving a simple gift to this person. The gift is merely a wish for the person to feel kindness, peacefulness and joy. Just say it to yourself: I wish this person kindness, peacefulness and joy. Imagine the person filled with this kindness, inner peacefulness, and joy. Notice how it affects them.

 

Standard compassion practices start with someone you are comfortable with or close to. Then you go to someone neutral. Then to someone you don’t know. Finally, you imagine someone you dislike or are angry with. Then you give the gift to yourself.

 

Just sit for a moment with the sense of kindness, inner peacefulness and joy being all around you, filling you.

 

You could end right there or you might add this visualization:

 

Imagine a ball of light appearing above your head, a beautiful light, maybe white, or golden, like sunlight. The light begins to flow into your body, from the top of your head down to your feet. It fills your body with a warm, healing light. Then it flows out from your feet to the feet of the other person. It flows from you to the person you imagined, up her or his feet, through their body to their head and out to the ball of light above your body. Imagine the light filling both you and the other person, connecting you both in a circle of light. Enjoy the connection for a moment.

 

You can have the light flow from you, or from you and the imagined person, out to the whole class.

 

I usually use a singing bowl to end all practices. If you don’t use one, then end the visualization with:

 

Now, return your awareness to your breath. Breathe out—then allow yourself to inhale– and exhale again. As you inhale, return your attention fully to the classroom remembering the sense of kindness, peacefulness, joy and connection.

 

Singing bowls can also be used when the room gets too loud and you want to quiet everyone. Just listening to the bowl sing can focus attention and give people a sense of inner quiet.

 

Students often report that it is easier to imagine giving kindness, peacefulness, and joy to others than receiving it themselves. It is difficult to feel deserving of such gifts. I think it was the Dalai Lama who said that in the U. S. you must be courageous to be happy—or to allow yourself the gift. However, imagining the gift of joy for another bestows it on yourself. By giving it, you receive it. It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that the joy you imagine is in yourself. That’s one reason why, as I pointed out in my last blog, there are many psychological and health benefits to being compassionate.

 

Likewise, the more anyone can be kind and compassionate to themselves, the deeper their capacity for compassion for others.  Being kind to yourself is something you can practice each moment. Whenever you realize your mind has drifted or when you become aware that a thought, judgment, or emotion has carried you off, in that moment, you can come awake. You hear your thoughts as just thoughts, emotions as just emotional energy. Instead of judging yourself negatively, you treat your thoughts and emotions kindly and as an experience to learn from.

 

I have so far talked about mindfulness and compassion in terms of what one teacher or student could do in or out of a classroom. There is a deeper question that needs to be asked: What can a whole school do to teach compassion? Ultimately, compassion works best when it is embedded in the structure and culture of the school community and curriculum. What can you do you to embed compassion in your community?

 

 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

Compassion And Empathy, The Golden Skills

What is compassion? Empathy? I have to admit that I often lump these two together. Some educators have trouble using the word ‘compassion.’ It sounds too “spiritual” to them, whereas ‘empathy’ is something most anyone could support. Both empathy and compassion have the sense of “feeling with” another person, in some way feeling what another person is going through. But in what way do you feel the other? And why is this so important that it is called it the “golden skill?”

 

Paul Ekman defines three forms of empathy, the third being close to what I think of compassion.

  1. Cognition: an ability to discern the feelings of another or to “read” another person and the physical and action cues. A person like a sociopath can “read” another person but not care.
  2. Feeling: Internalize or “feel with” another person, body to body, sense to sense.
  3. Caring: “compassionate empathy” or to have a concern for another and the energy to help.

With compassion, you not only “feel with” the other person but want to act in accord with that feeling; you want to act in a kind, caring manner. You value the welfare of another person like you value your own welfare.  Hidy Ochiai once said compassion is being the other person.

 

With compassion, you do not help others in order to feel superior; that is pity. You do not simply feel a sense of sorrow about what they are going through; that is sympathy. Both pity and sympathy are based on an emotional distance with the other being. With empathy, that distance diminishes. The situation becomes more close up and personal. Compassion is when that sense of closeness compels action. And it is this closeness that the students want. They want to know that other people can act for the good of another person, because they want to know that people can be caring. They want to feel that care themselves, both in the giving and in the receiving.

 

There’s always a group of students who get very cynical. They take a stance against the possibility of compassion in order to dare someone to prove otherwise. They argue that compassion, like altruism or selflessness, is impossible. People act only to get some reward or because it feels good. If it feels good, then it isn’t compassion; it isn’t a selfless act.   They think they have me or have compassion on the spear point of a logical dilemma. I am always gladdened by their recognition that compassion feels good. When you act for the good of another, a sense of joy does arise. There is even good evidence that there are physical and psychological benefits from acting with compassion.  The problem is that the supposed dilemma masks the essential point. When you act in order to get the benefits then you lose the joy of compassion. The key is the intention. The joy comes only when the caring is selfless.

 

V. S. Ramachandran describes how, when you watch someone doing an intentional action, like reaching out for a sandwich, the motor control neurons in areas of your brain fire in a manner as if you were doing the action. You model in your brain what another person is doing. You then respond physically and mentally to your model almost as if it represents a distinct person.  You understand what the other person is doing through reading your response to your model; you understand through empathy. The neuron systems which enable this empathy are called mirror neuron systems. If you see a person experiencing pain, your pain neurons fire almost as if you were in pain. Did you ever flinch back when you saw a person hit? Or smile when you saw someone smile? In this way you become the other person.

 

These neurons enable humans not only to empathize with others but to be sophisticated imitators. We mirror mostly unconsciously. We are so good at it that we need mechanisms in our brain and in our skin to prevent us from constantly imitating others. There is even a condition where people can’t stop their imitating; it is called echopraxia.

 

The ability to imitate in action and imagination facilitates learning and understanding. You learn through imitating the sound of a word, how to hold a hammer, how to write a formula—or solve a formula. As I said in my blog on imagination, you understand a character in a novel by creating a model of the person in your mind and then “reading” your response to the model. You can understand a time in history or how riding in a spaceship might affect you by creating a mental model and then reading your own response to the model.

 

Empathy and compassion facilitate thinking and communicating. In talking with students about how to write an essay or story, teachers often say “know your audience.” Without knowing your audience, it is difficult to write a coherent, focused piece. You know what to say only to the extent that you feel and imagine the people you are speaking with or writing to. Communication is not just expressing yourself, not just saying what is on your mind. You have to understand, to some degree, the mind of the other person. What does expressing yourself mean? If no one hears you, have you had a conversation? ‘Con’ means ‘with’, ‘vers’ means ‘turn’, so a conversation can mean “turning with another” or turning together. What is on my mind changes depending on whom I am with and where I am. So, improving my ability to read, feel with, and care about another person aids my ability to communicate more clearly.

 

Empathy and compassion can be strengthened with mindfulness practices. Mindfulness strengthens the insula, which is an area of the cerebral cortex of the brain. It is  deep down, near the temporal, parietal and frontal lobes. It is  very connected to the limbic or emotion system, and to the mirror neuron system I spoke about earlier that is involved in understanding the emotion of others by experiencing the emotion in your self. The insula is also involved in the arousal of energy and focus. Compassion practices not only make the insula stronger; they ready you to act in a compassionate, kind or helpful manner.

 

Thus, teaching mindfulness and compassion practices can contribute to improving the environment in schools. It can improve learning, thinking and understanding. It readies students and teachers to act in ways which improve relationships and to intervene in actions like bullying which undermine relationships. Students and teachers will act to stop bullying because when they see it happen, they will feel the pain of being bullied, yet have the inner commitment and awareness to stop it.

 

So, when you feel a push to speak or act, especially when you are upset or angry, use compassion. Think about how you would feel hearing what you think you want to say. If you pity the other person, or feel very distant, what happens to understanding? Only by an empathetic or compassionate modeling and reading of another person’s intent do you understand what they meant to say and what you mean to say to them. Now that is a golden skill.

 

Next week: empathy and compassion practices.