“Can You Teach Compassion?”

Feb 22

“Can You Teach Compassion?”

I was sitting at a local restaurant recently enjoying breakfast with some former work mates, spinning the dream of spending time in a third-world country with my granddaughters in the near future. I was waxing lyrical of the benefits to my granddaughter’s character development and hopes that such an experience would instill compassion in them in a relevant and tangible way.
Then someone said, “You can’t teach compassion to a child.”
We bounced the statement back and forth for a bit before the conversation moved elsewhere. But that proclamation stayed with me and hasn’t let up.

Can you teach compassion?

Various studies have shown that compassion is like a muscle. Yes, some of us are born with good muscle/compassion tone but those of us who weren’t so lucky can still improve with hard, dedicated exercise.
The word comes from the Latin ‘compati’ meaning to suffer with (com- “together” and pati “to suffer”) or to take pity.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Luke 6:31 reads as a compassion imperative, if rather brief. After all, isn’t that what compassion is: putting yourself in another’s shoes, feeling with them, suffering with them, laughing and crying with them?
You may know the story of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it’s not so well known that the narrative belongs to Jesus, as detailed in Luke 10:30-35.

A man was robbed, beaten and left for dead by the side of a road. The first two people who passed by ignored him and continued on their way. The third, a Samaritan, “took pity on him” and not only bandaged his wounds and helped him to safety, but paid for his accommodation and care.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus concluded.

The “expert in the law” who Jesus was telling the story to replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

Can you teach compassion? I think so. Jesus obviously thought so. Compassion, after all, is the language of community.

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