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Leslie Backkart

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The teaching of kindness, compassion and empathy.

Should our children be taught, without using religion, a defined feeling or emotion in having compassion, empathy and extending kindness onto others? Education to stimulate the mind is great, but stimulate something within their hearts. Children today don't seem to place the shoes of others onto their own feet. I fear we are raising a very unsocial and self motivated, self gratifying generation of children. What are your thoughts?

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    Jul 20 2013: Hi Leslie!
    It seems that you are relatively new to TED conversations....Welcome!

    Sometimes, I think that maybe the children could teach some adults kindness, compassion and empathy. It seems like kids are born with these qualities, and often, because of challenging life experiences, they lose touch with how to practice kindness, compassion and empathy.

    I believe the best way to teach or encourage anything, is by being a good role model, so I strongly support and encourage "us" to "be" what we want to "see".

    There are people who teach these characteristics through religion, but these behaviors/emotions certainly are not directly connected to religion, and we certainly see some folks who say they are religious, NOT demonstrating kindness, compassion and empathy.

    It is a practice we can "be" and use in every moment of the life adventure, and I agree with Tify, that it can even come from programs such as Star Trek, in which these qualities are demonstrated often:>)
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      Jul 21 2013: Not sure about Star Trek, but we are acknowledging the need to teach. My reference to religion is the removal from schools any teachings based on God. So, for many, this meant his lessons, as well as the fear of God no longer exist in schools. Kids should not be taught by fear anyway, but rather by what they would like to have done onto them. We have many role models of living proof what empathy, kindness and compassion for others can do for the entire well being of mankind. Why not teach this!
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        Jul 26 2013: Hello again Leslie,
        I think/feel star trek offers some great lessons in kindness, compassion and empathy.

        Many years ago, when my kids were in high school, they were involved in so many activities, that all of us sitting down to dinner became a challenge at times. We lived near the school, so between practices and rehearsals, the kids would walk or bike home and get something to eat. For awhile, it became a regular practice for me to make something quick and easy for them to grab....homemade soup, stews, etc, which would be ready when they popped in to eat:>)

        My son, often grabbed a bowl of food and sat down to watch star trek. I decided that if I wanted to spend time with him, this was it! So, I began watching it with him, we often laughed together, talked about what was happening in the show, etc.

        The crew of the star ship enterprise was made up of people from VERY different planets and cultures, so there were often lessons in intercultural relationships, conflict resolution between individuals, as well as cultures, lessons in mediation and negotiation because of intergalactic conflict and differences. My son and I talked about this "stuff" all the time. So while we might have the tendency to write star trek off as a kids show, or something like that, I think/feel there is a lot of value in it, as Tify insightfully points out:>)

        I TOTALLY agree...teaching with fear is not beneficial to anyone, and religion often presents the lesson based on fear.
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    Jul 23 2013: this can only be taught through example. when an adult has been witness to an act of kindness, compassion and empathy performed by a child and/or young adult they should receive recognition, be it on-on-one or to a class room. children tend to mimic behavior that receives the most attention
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    Jul 23 2013: Research on the positive effect of class projects and after-school activities that develop compassion continues to grow. Scouts, church groups, and programs like GenerationOn’s Kids Care Clubs provide excellent ways for children to learn skills and practice compassion in their communities. Resources abound for adult leaders and classroom teachers to help implement meaningful hands-on service projects, locally, nationally, and globally.
  • Jul 20 2013: I think we should teach them to have ideals.

    Which could be taken from such programs as Star Trek, where the goal of the person is not to profit at another expense, but rather to help one's fellow mankind, as a duty of being human.

    A lofty ideal, I know but Mandela, Martin L King, Kennedy believed in it, acted on it, and for a time we as a species had hope. We need to reclaim that.
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      Jul 21 2013: I so agree with you! Tify, fellowship without religion is what we need taught onto the masses of future generations. We have so much inspiration from our past and current leaders in this world to address this issue and do so without basis or religion. I think that is why so many people or sadden over removing "God" from everything. To many, without a "God" there would be no lesson. What they need to see is there is a lesson set by so many others within our history that shows, bravery, fear, compassion, kindness and empathy. Lincoln is another great example, most of the forefathers of this country have taught us much about life in general.
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      Jul 26 2013: I agree Tify, that we can learn from many different people and even Star Trek!
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    Jul 25 2013: Leslie, While I believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to instill these wonderful personality traits in our children, I hope that you understand that there are so very many outside influences that can crush years of effort that parents put in. One of those outside influences is the media and its glamorization of spoiled brat rich kids, (as well as spoiled brat adults). On the opposite end, should a child live in a lower income community, there is the influence of seeing drug dealers drive luxury autos and wear designer clothing - so much for self-motivation and work ethic. Then we have the teens that get pregnant and end up with a section 8 housing allowance and free food and medical, thereby showing our precious children a bad example of why you don't really have to go to work. The values you speak of - compassion, empathy and kindness are something that comes with life experience as well as being taught. For example, I received wonderful care while in the hospital, and therefore can understand the value of my caring for others and how it may make them feel. On the other hand, if a person has never been ill, they may truly not know the feeling of empathy for an ill person. You can tell them all you want, but it is something you need to feel yourself and want yourself to have as an attribute. Then, we have the parents that raise their children from a place of guilt, for whatever reason, whether it is because of a broken family or because they spend too much time at work, they overindulge the child to "make up for it" , not realizing that they are doing more harm than good.

    I remember when my son was five years old, he gave a brand new toy to a friend. I wanted to tell him that it was wrong, that I just spent money on that, but my mother said "he is showing generosity, what a lovely trait". The toy stayed right where it was. My son and I both learned a lot that day.
  • Jul 21 2013: I agree 100%. Our present day society is becoming ever more selfish and psychotic; I feel this is motivated by our morals being replaced by capitalistic/materialistic me-ism!
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    Jul 21 2013: Pre-K is teaching children to play well with others, somewhere along the way as they grow, they get a slice of their reality, for many kids, it's all about revenge. Revenge, anger, resentment for having been born. What an awful way for a child to grow up. There are a vast number of reasons why children so young have low self-esteem. The have lack of role models, lack of funds, lack of concern, lack of food, lack of feeling loved. We are the fortunate ones contributing to society. We are on TEDI But what about the others, the have-nots. Those that don't get heard. Isn't there a reason behind wayward children in our society. Children who's parents should have never had children. I am not asking about how fortunate we are, I am asking to assist in understanding of the less fortunate child and what may help them. The one that is in detention, or a gang or eventually juvenile prison. If we teach what is not in the home, perhaps a few more will have a better chance to be of benefit to society rather than a burden. The unwanted child learns only to be unwanted.
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      Jul 24 2013: Leslie, I love your insight on this. I always felt like I was a burden to my mother, still do at the age of 50. I had my son when I was only 19 years old and was determined, if nothing else, to make him know how much he was wanted, loved and valued, still do at the age of 30. He has become an independent, confident and caring young man who has also achieved great things academically. He has seen his mother vulnerable, sick, struggling and broke, but throughout all of it, I loved him to the full capacity that I possibly could. He learned to never take anything for granted, to respect and appreciate all that he had, whatever little it was. Things never came first, time spent together was our value. So, even though we were not the haves, or the fortunate ones, we were truly the winners.
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    Jul 21 2013: I don't know, but maybe, just maybe the number of broken homes kids today grow up in may have a great effect on many children in such a way. hmmmm, self gratifying-check, self motivated-check, unsocial ...well, check. You are looking for...defined feeling or emotion in having compassion, empathy and extending kindness onto others (even the one's that should mean the most to them?).
    Wow wee zoo wow weE ...acts of kindness.
    It's all around them within their peers. If possible, what age bracket do you believe needs help the most with this?

    I believe a good start would be to get the government out of unnecessary family court cases. Many fathers that want to be in their children's lives compare this to kidnapping. I would concur, no pay no play (like many things, even children)! You are very welcome to check out my profile :)
  • Jul 20 2013: Yes they should be shown compassion, empathy and kindness. These are not school lessons, religious or public. These are emotional development skills that parents need to teach. Schools may re-enforce the behaviors, but they are learned at home. Developing feelings in children is not something you can open a book and teach. They are taught by witnessing the compassion, empathy and kindness shown by adults, emulating the behavior, and then feeling good about themselves as a result. Granted these feelings might be acknowledged, rewarded, or praised by teachers or adults trying to mature the feeling development in the child, but this type of behavior is one of many being balanced by the child as they try and figure out how to survive and find their place in society.

    I do not think the material inside a child has been substantially changed by nature over the past several hundred years, so what are the external influences that have changed? Ahh, the parents!

    Children today have parents that grew up in a different time than their parents, etc. If they are not being empathetic, are they seeing empathy?

    Do they see an unwillingness to accept the opinions of others and reach agreements?
    Do they see a blind willingness to do whatever is needed to get ahead, at the expense of principles and ethics?
    Do they see justice and personal accountability, or attempts to by-pass rules and gain special favor?
    Do they see pleasure derived from bringing happiness to others, spending time with family, and socializing with neighbors, or do they see pleasure in the form of additional cable channels, a bigger house or medically enhanced beauty?

    If we do not see behaviors we like in our children, I believe the cause is to be found in the mirror, not the classroom.
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      Jul 21 2013: Many children have no reflection much less parents that give two cents. They have no role models. No place to belong, however they do belong to our public schools and deserve the right to a proper education. They need a chance to know there is more in life than being angry and feeling unloved. There is much to gain in the giving of ones self. It's called happiness and it's contagious and it comes from caring about others and not just yourself. Thus compassion, empathy and kindness. We have living role models all around us an deep in our history books.
      • Jul 21 2013: Sadly, you right.

        Many children do not have parents that either can or will teach these lessons at home. Still, that is where these lessons can best be taught.

        They do deserve the right to a public education, but I do not believe a public education includes the burden of being responsible for these lessons.

        As they say " It takes a village to raise a child", so with your condition of non-caring or absent parents, a highly motivated and caring teacher might choose to step-up and try and teach the child some of these lessons with the time allotted in the classroom. This time would come at the expense of other lessons and time spent with the rest of the class.

        A teacher's choice to accept this role of surrogate parent as "over and above" the duties associated with the job. Further, I can see attempts to accomplish these lessons as being risky from an administrative perspective, as parents might see attempts to solve some of these problems as special treatment for their child, which if desired, becomes perceived as unfairness by other kids and parents, and if undesired, may be identified a harmful to the child and exploited by the parents through legal channels. Opportunistically litigious parents are another hazard these days. So, while it speaks volumes about the character of the teacher for noticing the absence of these characteristics in a student, and wanting to teach them, I see this as a personal choice to invest the time and take on the risk, not something required in the position.

        Anyone in the life of a child, teachers (public or church), family members other than parents, coaches, Scout leaders, neighbors, willing to accept the risk and invest the time and effort in the child to directly help them learn these lessons is to be commended.

        All adults should strive to serve as role models, particularly when little eyes are watching.

        Parents have the greatest opportunity to teach these lessons.

        Non-caring or absent parents is a national problem.
    • Jul 24 2013: I believe it is society as a whole which seems to value material things over what the "soul" needs which has caused this transformation. Money has replaced our moral core and that has influenced the thinking of most modern children. We are supporting and becoming more and more psychotic as a society than ever before.
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    Jul 20 2013: I'm going to assume you mean formal 'teaching' in public schools and not 'teaching' in general, like I would my own children or grandchildren. So therefore public schools are not able to use religion at all anyway. So that would take me to the schools definition and interpretation of "a defined feeling... onto others". So then there are numerous meetings with the community and the school board to set this definition, and then it goes the way of mission and vision statements - a nice poster on the wall in the office to show visitors. Or, civil liberties are eventually adjudicated and the school district is sued. So no, I would say that such moral platitudes should not be taught in public schools as a subject matter, other than through philosophy or history classes which are already offered. And I would also disagree that 'children of today' are unsocial. Through modern technology (internet, texting, cell phones, etc.) they are more talkative then ever - and they are able to communicate with more peers from around the world than ever before. Just like here on TED. Also, what is wrong with self-motivation?
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      Jul 21 2013: Technology for me, has taken away the social interaction of face to face emotion and the sense of reading one's facial expression. Please go a little deeper and use a younger child visually. Thus I foresee a lack of proper social skills based on this. Since the removal from our public schools any teachings based on God, which for many, this meant his lessons, as well as the fear of God or pleasing to God, what is there for them to learn rights from wrongs? I believe kids should not be taught by fear anyway, but rather by what they would like to have done onto them. We have many role models that are living proof of what empathy, kindness and compassion can do for others and can do for the entire well being of mankind. Why not teach this!
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        Jul 25 2013: sorry it's taken so long to respond. I just got back and it seems I have no 'My Conversations' archived. I had to find your original post. I will reply by offering that your definition of emp, kind, comp is not universal and that there is no universal definition. We cannot impose pseudo-religious moral imperatives through the public school system. This is why I referred to the philosophy and history courses already being taught. Your reference to the 'entire well-being of mankind' is defined by your 'God' and 'His' maxims. Please understand that I am sensitive to 'man's inhumanity to man' and that I believe children should be exposed to the social consequences of such inhumanity. But such definitions of 'kindness/compassion/empathy' are impossible to define in such a pluralistic society, and fall outside the responsibilities of public schools. Parents need to give such moralistic value definitions to their children, not public employees. Hope that's 'deep' enough.
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    Jul 20 2013: Doesn't it start when you're teaching your toddler to be gentle with the cat? She is silent compassion.
  • Jul 20 2013: Hi Leslie,

    I believe the idea of kindness, compassion and empathy have to be molded through experience and is rather difficult teaching in a sense of disciplining one to feel and act towards those feelings.

    For me personally, my parents kindness and compassion that brought me up through these Twenty years have molded me to the individual I am today. It's not a process or act that can be defined as teaching. These are emotions and feelings learnt through experience. Realizing the power of feelings are what shapes an individual to be kind and compassionate as well as show empathy. When you extend kindness to others, it not only affects the counterparts happiness but acts as a self-enriching process which is very much enjoyable and self-gratifying.

    So in essence if you want to teach kindness, compassion and empathy. Do it through actions and not reasons.
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    Jul 20 2013: Your question is very interesting, because I still haven't found a clear answer to it so far.

    Besides kindness, which is fake-able, compassion and empathy root deep but can they be taught? I don't know.

    Remembering my childhood I was often asked to wash my hands before dinner, to tidy up my room, etc. but never to show more compassion or empathy ...

    I remember family members or friends being moved by something which didn't touch me at all, but there was no need to 'simulate' either not to hurt anyone. With a bit of decency, no one took any notice of it.

    I remember fairytales and stories I was told, which deeply sharpened my sense for justice and manners, yet they may had no effect on my brother next to me, and vice versa ...

    Trying to teach compassion and empathy somewhat feels to me as being ask to 'be spontaneous', because whatever you do, you just can't ...:o)

    Exemplary living, may be the only way to us to spark those emotions in our children, because fairytales and stories are mandatory anyway ... ;o)
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    Aug 17 2013: Kindness, compassion and empathy are qualities that oftentimes need to be cultivated in humans........of any age.

    How did you learn to display these qualities?

    The answer will more often than not shed light into how to help others cultivate these wonderful human qualities.
  • Jul 21 2013: Hi Dear Leslie Bachert.religion belongs to private decision or self-alternative.I am grown up without any religion.Anyway I do want to keep the gratitude to my parents who contribute a lot to educate me to be a person with emotion,compassion,empathy and extending kindnesss.

    The best education is we parents,be their good model:)
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    Jul 21 2013: Schools teach the facts, but not the acts....of kindness, compassion and empathy. Would this teaching better future generations?
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    Jul 21 2013: This was not for a teenager response, but I will try to explain. I by no means mean to generalize a group other than children, most younger than yourself dear. I am stating a need for it in schools as way to go around the religious aspect of doing good unto others. Many parents don't practice manners or good morals and within public schools lies their children, most unwanted, neglected and unloved. Many children in america are at a disadvantage with no role models. Families are smaller and many children have no siblings to learn from. It's parental neglect, and the current society that needs to address social behavior in our children today. Through schools is one way to reach the masses. Technology is great, however children do entertain their time well, but it is not giving children an opportunity to learn social skills at very young ages and how to interact with people. It's not about a reward or what's in it for me attitude, it's about the parents. You apparently do not apply as you are not a parent.
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    Jul 20 2013: YOu are right that this generation knows less of sympathy and compassion than the previous ones. However, please do not generalize everyone here. The vast majority of teenagers are self-centered, however there are still many out there that are caring and helping towards others as well.

    I think to teach children about kindness, it is not really something school can do much about. It is something that needs to an on-going process where kids learn through observation and interaction with those around them. So family would be a great place to start. Disappointingly, nowadays, education withitn a family is neglected as parents have to work more and thus have less family time. The rise of electronic gadgets also contribute a lot to this drop in empathy. Kids are lacking solitude and many even struggle with intrapersonal problems. If they are not so sure about themselves, it is unlikely that they will reach out for others.

    And sometimes, it is parents that spoil the kids. A mother usually gives her children what they want to calm them down so they won't be naughty or cry so loud in public. And children get this message. So everytime they want something, they just have to cry and they will get it. By doing this, parents have taught their children a bad habit, to receive more than to give.
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    Jul 20 2013: I don't see it, but maybe they have a different style. Sometimes one can be too compassionate, it can be coddling?
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    Jul 20 2013: This is a difficult issue,

    To begin with, there Is no such thing as "children".
    Humans have some very distinct stages of maturity.
    It is pretty well demonstrated that in the first 24 months, the young child should be treated with absolute, unconditional nurture. During this time, any attempt of the parent to infer sophisticated thinking on the part of the toddler is delusional - and will damage the toddler's developmental pathways. Up to 24 months, the child is still a foetus.
    from there on up to 7, the task becomes one of enablement .. allowing a safe space in which to explore. This will include the child's exploration of what does and does not hurt others. During this time, absolute honesty is required of the parent - negative behaviours become defined from positive ones depending on which behaviours elicit nurture and which ones elicit withdrawal. The use of physical punishment in this period is likely to backfire and teach the child the uses of violation.
    Once puberty is reached, the child is beyond the effective control of the parent. By that time, you have created a friend or an enemy.
    Kindness, compassion and empathy are intrinsic properties of humans. They need not be actively "taught", they need to be allowed and supported as the child learns how to master them.
  • Jul 20 2013: This coming generation of unsocial, self-motivated children are nothing to worry about, as long as we have legislation keeping them from seriously abusing each other. And besides, stimulation of "the heart" doesn't work. My parents are Buddhists and buy into the whole compassion thing, but all I learned from being raised in such a house-hold is how to mimic emotion and appear as if I actually care about something or someone.
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    Jul 20 2013: I think families typically teach kids compassion, empathy, and kindness as they model those behaviors and also by talking with their children about options and choices that arise in different situations children encounter. This learning doesn't have to be in a religious context.

    Teachers often work on this as well, starting in the preschool years. In public school and in secular private schools, these practices will be dissociated from any particular religion.

    I don't see the current generation of children as lacking in these dispositions compared to earlier generations. I have not seen any research to suggest a reduction in empathy among children over time.
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    Jul 19 2013: . .
    Yes!
    We should teach our children
    "kindness, compassion and empathy" are our instincts.
    Instincts are our ancestors' successful experiences in DNA.

    Today, a lot of them are distorted by invalid (harmful) happiness.
    It endangers human survival.