Friday, February 15, 2013
Finding Compassion in the Midst of Cruelty
But at the core of being a humane educator (and, really, a human), is compassion. As challenging as it is to feel compassion toward others who are causing harm, we continue to strive to build our well of compassion and tap into it as often as we can. So when we're directly confronted with someone who has caused great harm, how we respond is a real test of our courage and compassion.
Recently I came upon an essay by a teacher, Rachel, who was faced with a student who had committed an act of great harm. She was a special education teacher who had been developing a positive relationship with this student. And one day she discovered that he had killed his kitten. She says,
"That night, I did not sleep. I cried for the kitten. I cried for the boy whose heart did not enable him to love and care for an animal. I cried for myself because I still had a school year ahead of me to teach this child. How could I get past this?"
What did she do when he told her what he'd done?
She said, "My heart is broken by what you did. ... But I still believe in you."
It would have been so easy for Rachel to rage and reject and refuse to have anything more to do with this student. Or to punish him the rest of the year by how she treated him. Or to just give up hope.
But she didn't. She told him she believed in him, and demonstrated that every day. And it changed the boy's life. She says,
"Although I couldn’t forgive him for taking that kitten’s life, it didn’t mean his life should be thrown away too. ... Vince's life was worth saving. I would not turn my back on him."
Rachel goes on to remind us:
"Our children will make mistakes.
These mistakes will likely grow in severity as they get older.
But a mistake doesn’t warrant abandonment, condemnation, or disownment.
Be the one who doesn’t turn and walk away.
Be the one that stays and says, 'I don’t condone what you did, but I still believe in you.'
And then foster the goodness that resides deep within that troubled heart – even if you have to dig to find it. Believe it is there – even if you are the only one who does.
Because one day that child will grow into a young adult who has choices that can either harm or contribute to society. And when that time comes, there you will be – a flutter in his heart, reminding him he was once worthy of saving and still is."
Read the complete essay.
As people who care deeply about the world, it can be easy for us to paint the people perpetuating cruelty and harm as bad or evil, and worth only condemnation and judgment. But accusing and rejecting others won't help create that just, compassionate, peaceful world we're striving for. It's at these desperately challenging times that we most need to embrace and promote compassion. That doesn't mean we're condoning any of the horrors and atrocities committed. It does mean that we're not giving up and that we're modeling a message worthy of following.
Like our blog? Please share it with others, comment, and/or subscribe to our RSS feed.