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October 31st, 2007

What do you hope your children will be like when they grow up? We want them to have a good education, be financially secure, settle down and have a good family, right?

Have you thought about wanting your children to be compassionate people?

Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

My friend is a traffic officer at the local college. Recently there was a 4-car collision where several people had to be rushed to the hospital in ambulances. This happened during traffic hour in the morning, causing much traffic delays. My friend’s job was to direct the movement of the long line of cars inching along in the one open lane. What kind of response do you think he saw from those drivers? Were they sympathetic to those involved in the accident? Absolutely not! He got angry looks and complaints – “Thanks a lot for making me late to my meeting!”

We have gotten to be rather selfish in our outlook on life, haven’t we? Everything is about us. Does the concept of compassion still exist? How do we teach our children to be compassionate – to have a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it?”

Consider these steps to building compassion in our children:

1. First, examine our own attitudes. Do we show compassion in small ways? Whenever I am stuck in traffic due to an accident, I say a prayer for those involved. There isn’t much else I can do. Sure, I am late getting to my destination, but where would I rather be, in the accident or merely slowed down by the accident? I tell my children to not worry about our schedule, but sympathize with the afflicted. Values are more caught than taught. We can begin by modeling compassion.

2. Giving regularly to a charity is one way to show compassion. If you go to church, regular tithing sets a good example. I believe our children should start to give as soon as they are old enough to understand money. Here is a system that I read about that I did with my children. Set out 3 jars for each child. Whenever your child gets money – gifts from birthday, from recycling, or from you – put 10% in one jar for giving, 10% in the second jar for saving, and 80% in the third jar for spending.

Giving can be approached positively by emphasizing how much we get to keep. It is hardly a sacrifice to give only 10% if you are keeping 90%!

As a family, you can decide where to give that 10%. You can match your child’s money and sponsor a child or give to a local shelter. It would be more relevant to your children if it is a charity they can relate to.

3. Another way to develop compassion is to be personally involved. This takes more investment than giving money. I know families that visit convalescent hospitals regularly. That would be a great way to develop a personal relationship with those in need rather than just giving money from a distance.

No matter what you decide to do, the important thing here is to do something to expand your heart. I would want my children to grow up not thinking that life is just about them.

Let me know what other ideas you have for developing compassion.

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