Lessons in Compassion


Near the end of last night’s Yatzee free-for-all, my ten-year-old started to cry when she realized she was going down in blaze of glory.  As she dried her tears, my eight-year-old gave her big sister a sideways glance and quietly picked up her dice.  She then proceed to throw the game (allowing the eldest to win) by super slowly rolling her dice and paying no attention to the result.  

I watched in awe as this unfolded.  And it got me thinking about compassion.  My youngest wears her heart on her sleeve.  She sees someone suffering and acts immediately.  This is often noticed and applauded.  My eldest quietly observes and thinks.  She sees suffering and absorbs it.  This is often dismissed as uncaring and callous.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  

One daughter learns that a friend was bullied at school and seeks them out on the playground to comfort them.  She then gives this friend daily hugs for the next week.  The other daughter learns about this same friend being bullied and wants to understand why anti-bully days and classroom discussions have not prevented bullying at their school.  She then discreetly watches the bullied friend throughout the week to make sure that she is OK.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

We visit the SPCA. One child wants to adopt all the animals. The other child questions why there are so many animals at the shelter.  We sponsor a child in Zimbabwe.  One child want to send cards and gifts.  The other child asks why children in other countries need sponsors and why some people are poor and others have so much.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

I’m much like my youngest daughter.  I see someone hurting and I want to help.  Sometimes this help comes in the form of a hug.  Sometimes it’s a long chat over a cup of tea.  Sometimes it’s the delivery of a homemade baked treat.  My compassion is swift and immediately tangible.  

My eldest daughter also feels deeply but her response is more subtle and abstract.  Her compassion leads to questioning, investigating and challenging the way in which things are done to see if there is a better way.  Her ten-year-old self hasn’t yet made the leap to acting on all this yet but I sense it is not far off.

My sweet, I’m sorry for not recognizing and celebrating your compassion just because it looks different than mine.  I will do better.  I will champion you as you champion others. Take on the world my quiet, thoughtful child and make it a better place.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  I think not.  Everyday I watch two very different young girls demonstrate compassion in their own unique ways.  We need those who are willing to wrap their arms around those who are hurt by injustice.  And we need those who are willing to take on the systems that create injustice.  You go girls.



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