Happy May! For my family, that means this is Compassion Month, the time every year when we focus on this incredibly powerful value. In this excerpt from my book, I define what compassion means to me:
(My son) asked me what compassion actually is. I told him that compassion is being aware that someone else is suffering and wanting to do something to ease their pain. And I believe the act of doing something to help someone who is hurting, is kindness. In other words, kindness is compassion in action.
“Remember that time when I had just come home from my friend’s funeral?” I asked my son. “I was sitting in the kitchen just staring into space, and without saying a word you put a hot cup of tea on the counter in front of me. You noticed that I was suffering and wanted to ease my pain – that’s compassion. Then you did something about it and gave me something comforting– that’s kindness.”
See what I mean when I say compassion is powerful? From true compassion come acts of kindness. And taking action to ease the suffering of one person or of a group of people has immeasurable ripple effects. When my son was about 11 years old he said, “Sometimes the small good thing you do today has a big effect for years.” I wholeheartedly believe that.
One of the greatest things about compassion is that it’s so easy to implement, even for a young child. There are so many opportunities to turn compassion into kindness in the life of a child. For example, what if one of your children has a new classmate who transferred into his school mid-year? Talk to your son or daughter about how that child might be feeling and share how you would be feeling in that situation. Maybe it’s something you actually experienced yourself. It’s hard to be the “new kid.” Ask your child for ideas about ways to help the new classmate feel more at home. Is he or she eating lunch alone? Being asked to join in the activities on the playground at recess? Maybe “the new kid” would enjoy a play date? Let children know that they have the power to make things easier for this child. It’s the power of compassion in action.
To help your children see many everyday opportunities to be kind, try this simple daily exercise. Make a “Compassion in Action Calendar” so you and your kids can experience the power of compassion this month. You can simply make your own calendar on a small poster board or print out a blank calendar from the computer. You just need enough space to write something on each date. If space is limited just write a list of acts of kindness on a sheet of paper, number each item, and put one number on each date.
To get you started, here are 7 ways everyone in your family can really put compassion into action. Try it for a week and then add your own ideas.
1. Find something that you don’t use anymore like shoes or clothes that don’t fit, or books or toys you have outgrown, and collect them to donate to a charity.
2. Use a kind tone of voice today even when (especially when) you feel like being mean or sarcastic.
3. Say hello to someone at school (or work) today that you don’t usually talk to.
4. Help an animal today. If you don’t have a pet, you could put out birdseed in a birdfeeder or recycle your garbage at home to make the planet a better place for wild animals to live. Everything matters!
5. When someone makes a mistake today, don’t criticize – instead take the opportunity to encourage them.
6. Offer to let someone go in front of you in line at the school cafeteria, at the grocery store, in traffic, or anywhere you are waiting today.
7. Offer to help a family member with a chore they normally do themselves.
At the end of each day, ask your kids about their “compassion in action” for the day and tell them about what you did as well. In our family, we put a coin in a jar in our kitchen every time a family member does their act of kindness – it can be a penny, a quarter ‐ whatever works for you. Then if you stick with it for the whole month, you’ll have something put aside to donate it to a local charity. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money to make a difference. It’s just another way of showing your children the power of compassion.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about putting compassion into action. Please take a moment to make a comment below. Thank you!
Written by Mary O’Donohue