Saturday, February 23, 2013

Can We Teach Compassion?

Guest Post by Valerie O. Patterson
We can teach students to read and add. But can we teach them to care for other people? To stop and consider their actions and the impact on others? Certainly, we can’t teach compassion just by talking about it. Like most lessons in life, we learn them for ourselves by practice. And we pass them on through example, not lecture. As parents, teachers, or family members, do we donate our time and resources for the betterment of other people, animals, or the environment?

My book OPERATION OLEANDER in part deals with the issue of what it means to help others in the greater world. Jess organizes Operation Oleander, a charity drive on the Army post where she lives, to gather school supplies for an orphanage in Afghanistan where her father is deployed. The association of the soldiers and the orphanage draws violence against both, with tragic consequences. As a result, Jess faces criticism at home and in the community. She also questions herself about what she should do now. How do we respond when things go wrong that we intended for good? Editor Daniel Nayeri put it this way in a recent interview about the book with novelist Kathryn Erskine:

Author Valerie O. Patterson
“[The book] presents a perfect example of consequentialist dilemma. Is an act of kindness worthwhile, even if we know it can come to ruin? If we can’t foresee the consequences in such complex situations, should we do nothing? If God is in the picture, how should that change our behavior? ‘The Lord sees the heart,’ after all, so are we only beholden to having good intentions?”

What then should we do? Do we give regardless? Or is charity the best response to need? Would the world be better served by addressing underlying societal issues that lead to poverty? In a book like OPERATION OLEANDER, the implications of military intervention also surface.

When we give, we don’t always know the impact of our gifts on others. When we model behavior for our children, we don’t always know that the behavior will be incorporated. Often, we also fail to realize the positive impact on our own lives when we give to others without expecting anything in return. Compassion toward others also helps heal our own souls.

To engage children in activities that help develop concern for others, consider possible age-appropriate activities. For younger children, those ideas might include:
  • Putting aside gently used toys for charity
  • Learning how to share an allowance by having three boxes—one for saving, one for giving, and one for spending.
  • Donating time together serving meals at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living facility, or feeding or playing with kittens or puppies at an animal rescue center.
  • Many religious and civic organizations allow the “sponsorship” of a specific child in need, so that a child might see the direct impact of giving to help another person.
Activities for older children and teens might include:
  • Using a skill or passion they have on behalf of others, such as a student who plays a musical instrument might play for an assisted living facility on a weekend.
  • An athlete might volunteer to coach a younger children’s team or event
If considering donations of money to organizations, please take the time to examine the organization’s bona fides. Particularly after a tragedy, fraudulent organizations spring up to take advantage of people’s inclinations to give. Ensure that the group is in fact a legitimate charity that uses donations for their intended purpose.

OPERATION OLEANDER shows us a compassionate young woman and her struggle to do the right thing. I hope this story will encourage young readers to help others in their own creative ways.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post! As the mother of six, I can't think of a more important concept to model and to help children personally develop than compassion for others. Well written, sensitive and powerful books like Operation Oleander make GREAT spring boards for discussion. Thanks, Valerie, for writing such an inspiring blog and book!