Can Compassion be Taught?

A blogger friend asked me this question.  Can compassion be taught?
My primitive thoughts:

1.  To be compassionate we have to put our egos aside.  When self-importance, personal need, greed drive us compassion fades.

2. People must be willing to learn.  What’s the saying? You can lead a human to God but you can’t make him believe.

3. Humans can be taught HOW to be compassionate toward others. 

An example that I come across every time I do couples counseling is that each partner intends compassion while the other partner experiences it as hurt or neglect.  The disparity between INTENTION and EXPERIENCE is based on how each of us PERCEIVES our “reality”.

Ex: The man is being compassionate when he tries to find a solution to the wife’s pain and all she wants is a shoulder to cry on and arms around her.  A wife is being compassionate when she expresses FEELINGS by putting  her arms around him when all he wants is her to bring him a hot meal and stop shopping.

Yes, these are stereotypes but substitute what you “do” to show compassion and you can teach yourself how to match your partners experience to you intention.  Just do what your partner wants instead of what you want.  Fill out the blanks to figure it out.

  • When I show compassion I (behavior)________________ therefore that’s what I want from my partner.
  • When my partner shows compassion he/she (behavior)______________________therefore that’s what he/she wants in return.

Almost to a fault you can believe that whatever one person DOES to show their compassion is precisely what they WANT in return.

4. The easiest way to teach compassion is to put the individual in situations with people less fortunate.  World travel, volunteering, support groups, charitable work are all ways of finding compassion.  Internet chat rooms and forums play similar roles.  (I am not yet convinced that having some kind of direct contact is still not the best way to develop compassion but technology has given us the way of behaving compassionately at a distance.)

After compassion is LOVE.

Can you teach love?

4 comments on “Can Compassion be Taught?

  1. I LOVE Mo’s answer!!!!!
    what about teenagers?
    I have one incredibly compassionate child and one that hides her feelings and compassion at least outwardly is not in her vocabulary. at least not with her parents. she manages ok with friends….is it just a teenage thing? (G-d willing?)


    • Laurie,
      Teenagers who do volunteer work with less fortunate develop compassion more quickly..
      and yes it’s probably a teenage thing. The teenage brain usually has a huge growth spurt in late teens/early twenties – it’s the same kind of huge growth that takes place in 2 year olds and it’s neurochemical/biological. When that happens a shift takes place in how we experience the world. That’s why late teens/early twenties demonstrate for peace, equality, join peace corps etc.

      Also the job of teens is to individuate/separate from family of origin. Some do it more gracefully than others, some don’t do it until late adulthood and others never do it. Sometimes it’s better to have them do it in teen-age years than rebel or separate out later!


  2. Lovely post Judith. I read it to The Joe-Man and he looked at me like I had three noses. He said I could be compassionate and have sex. I told him to go to sleep. Love!


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