Two Tales of Compassion

Two events this week got me thinking a lot about compassion. One was positive, the other not so much.

The first story was relayed to me via Ian Hill, a good friend of mine who is spearheading a volunteer-driven initiative that is building playgrounds and skateboard and fitness parks in communities across the country. Of course it’s not just about the playgrounds and parks. It is instead much more about the magic that happens when a community pulls together to build it in one day.

Anyway, Ian told me about a little girl, who, upon hearing that they were going to build a new playground at her school, called everyone who had been invited to her upcoming birthday party. She suggested to each of them that if they were considering a present, she would really like it if they instead donated the amount they would have spent to the playground. The organizers reported receiving $435.00 in donations.

Yesterday, my sister told me another story with a slightly different ending about a situation at the school where she works.

In the class she teaches there are two children who were among many left homeless after a fire in a not-so-upscale apartment complex. One family recently immigrated to Canada, the other was a single mother who had recently left an abusive relationship.

Barely making ends meet, neither family had insurance on the contents of their respective apartments. As a result, they lost everything except the clothes on their backs.

Left homeless, they were eventually given two weeks of temporary shelter in a hotel nowhere near their home and left on their own to figure out how to pay for restaurant meals, get their kids to school, and find and furnish a new place to live.

My sister, who has a heart of gold, made it her mission to rally support at her school and passed an envelope among her colleagues. The total collection mustered was $120.00.

The two disparate stories made me wonder about the differences and what we can do to nurture more compassion in today’s society. After all, to feel compassion for one another is what makes us human. And yet, in an era of mass media, we see so may horrific images that as violence and bad news escalates, it seems we are in danger of becoming desensitized and turning a less than sympathetic eye to the pain and suffering of others.

Ultimately this seems to result in a culture that too often reflects less kindness and more callousness.

Why do we need to teach compassion to our children and keep our own compassion alive?
Compassion is necessary for us to survive as a species and for our individual spiritual growth.  After all how can we grow as human beings if we don’t experience deep compassion for others?

It may be something that each of us needs to work at constantly in order to make sure we keep compassion alive and strong in our hearts. 

The experts say that whenever we see or hear, directly or indirectly, about people facing hardship or impacted by a tragedy, we need to make sure we don’t let it pass without at least giving some thought to what they and their loved ones may be experiencing. If we are someone who prays, we should include them in our prayers. If we have children, we can express our feelings and thoughts about it to them. If they ask questions, we can answer them to the best of our ability and be grateful that they are expressing interest in their fellow beings. And, if there’s action we can take, we should take it.

My sister hasn’t given up on her colleagues and is working to keep her compassion front and centre by brainstorming fundraising ideas that will also involve her students. She’s also making connections to social service agencies to find those who can help. Moved by her compassion, members of our own family have made donations. 

As for the little girl who gave up birthday presents so kids in her community could have a new playground, two anonymous donors heard about her generosity and have since presented her with a $1000 education scholarship.

Indeed, as my wise mother always taught, when we give, we always get back more.

Posted on 03-30-09

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