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Carter Harkins

Chief Storyteller, Harkins Creative

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How Do We Teach Children Compassion and Empathy?

Joan proposes that if compassion is so good for us, why don't we teach it to our children? But how is this done? What are your ideas? What has worked in your experience?


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    Sep 25 2011: Borrowing words from Agathon in Plato's Symposium, adults "neither do, nor suffer, wrong to or from any person." This means when you need to be intolerant, you do so firmly yet kindly. In this way, adult emphathy is inclusive, and children get it, because it comes naturally to them.
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        Sep 29 2011: Alex, I like it:
        “Education should be founded as much as possible on kindness. A human being is a sensitive and emotional being and has an innate kindness. This emotionality is the basis of morality, but as the emotionality can easily deteriorate into an egocentric attitude, it must be refined by education. Kindness, another name for love, should always be the binding element in every education. Whoever develops kindness also cares about the other virtues, such as fairness, loyalty, honesty and other manners that are based on the respect for the feelings of the others. The result of such an education is not a guarantee for happiness, but it will always bring more harmony and inner peace in a child and in the world.”
        “Kindness,” as portrayed in Merriam-Webster online seems to involve more relationship than some people may want. That’s one of the problems I find with “compassion.” Because “love” can be taken in the same way—more attention than the other party wants, MW behooves me to employ the word “empathy”. I would like to learn of more used word; many people don’t think “empathy.” The teacher-student relationship is closer than most, so “kindness” might be very appropriate. (I am a chemical engineer.)
        Please take a look at a conversation I started, “Tolerance is insufficient: I propose “respect”. The product of that conversation was a five tiered, twelve column wide, up to 12 entry deep array of applicable words, negative to the left, “empathy” in the center, and “appreciation,” “understanding,” and “attraction” to the right. No one in the conversation approved of “tolerance” and a number of contributors thought that society’s reluctance to express intolerance is a major problem. Therefore, “tolerance” was to the left of “empathy” and “intolerance was to the right. I was astonished with the product of a short conversation by TEDsters!
        Your point “natural kindness” is well supported by James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense.1993. 1997 ed.
        Thank you,

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