Compassionate people are happy people, and compassionate people understand that everyone is simply doing their best. They acknowledge there are those who do rotten things to each other, but we have no idea of the internal torment these individuals struggle with.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have rules in our society or that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. It’s simply to say that life is better when we look upon one another with acceptance.
Human behaviour specialist Brené Brown has done extensive research on people who show great compassion. These are people who reach out with kindness and empathy to others, who see good in everyone, and who experience the oneness of our humanity. She and her team tried to find what these people had in common.
Surprisingly, what she found more than anything else was that they lived their lives with firm boundaries.
These aren’t boundaries that keep others out, they’re standards that individuals choose to live by, very clear ideas as to what is and isn’t okay, a strong sense of personal ethics that doesn’t need to be imposed upon others.
These are people who show respect for everyone not because they have low standards, but because they simply don’t subject themselves to the abuses of others.
In our society, we tend to respond to perceived disrespect with rudeness. But compassionate people don’t allow this type of negative thought to pollute their minds. They consciously choose their own kind thoughts.
When working with children and adolescents, we can fairly safely assume that these young people are doing the best they can. We have no idea what they may be dealing with at home, what emotional stresses they feel or what learning challenges they face each day.
A teacher colleague of mine follows this mantra: “Treat them better than they are and soon they will be.” In other words, if we treat students with respect, even when they’re not ‘deserving’ of it, they will eventually change their behaviour and show more respect to others.
It goes without saying that rules are important for the safety and well-being of all, but it’s also necessary to accept our students as they are. When we do, they begin to grow more comfortable at school and then real learning can begin.
I don’t know why this approach works, but it does. It’s something good teachers have always understood. Perhaps this is because there’s a longing in each of us to simply be accepted. We all know that we aren’t perfect but we really are doing the best we can.
The truth is that “treating them better than they are” demonstrates not only the teacher’s respect for her students, it also demonstrates a sense of self-respect. It’s also a reason why self-care and personal development are so vital to effective teaching. It’s very difficult to make educators feel disrespected when they have a deep and profound understanding of their value.
It’s a great challenge for all of us to look on ourselves and our neighbours with such deep compassion. There are many great people and great books we can study to do so, but this is a lifelong journey and it’s a journey that’s unique for each of us.
If we know what we’re striving for, however, we’re already well on our way. Embrace the fact that everyone is really doing their best, ourselves included, and know that those exhibiting the most destructive behaviours are those who are hurting the most.
Remember as well that in order to truly love and respect others, we need to love and respect ourselves. As we find peace and happiness within, we find peace and happiness in the world around us.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.