Compassion - 'Empathy with Action'

We often talk about Claremont College as being a compassionate community… a community that cares for others and shows qualities of kindness, empathy and thoughtfulness toward others. But is that what compassion really encompasses? 

‘Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, even more profoundly powerful, in its meaning. In Latin, ‘compati’ means ‘suffer with’. Compassion means someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Another’s suffering becomes your suffering. True compassion changes the way we live.’ (Compassion, Releasing Children from Poverty in Jesus’ Name).

At Claremont College we believe that compassion helps us to connect with others, sustain relationships and move forward. It fosters emotional intelligence and wellbeing. ‘Compassion takes empathy one step further because it harbours a desire for all people to be free from suffering, and it’s imbued with a desire to help’ (Mindful, Healthy Mind, Healthy Life).

So how does this look at Claremont College? This approach impacts the way in which we explicitly teach our students about positive behaviours, how we interact with our students when they find learning difficult, and how we respond if they find their relationships with others challenging. We don’t abandon our students, or simply do things for our students, or issue punitive punishments. Research teaches us that these approaches do not help students attain behaviour change or assist with moral development. Instead, we guide, support and counsel our students. At times there is a misconception that compassion means turning a ‘blind eye’ or being ‘too soft’ when responding to challenges. This is definitely not the way we view our response. Difficult issues need to be addressed. Our staff focus on working out a child’s unsolved problem alongside the child, understanding the ‘why’ behind the problem, and then collaboratively making an action plan on how to move forward toward positively solving that problem. The child may be in ‘the pit’, whether it be in regards to overcoming a learning challenge, changing their mindset, or changing their social behaviour - it is definitely not avoiding the problem. Compassion is empathy with action, for a better future.

Compassion is not only for our students. It’s for us adults too - the way parents relate to other parents, parents with staff, staff with staff, and also the way in which we treat ourselves. Dr Kristin Neff believes that to be more compassionate towards others and to judge others less harshly, we need to be more self-compassionate. To be self-compassionate involves treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is having a tough life challenge. I believe many of us confuse self-compassion with selfishness. What I have come to learn is that self-compassion, or rather, perhaps said another way, inner compassion, can provide us and others a path to wellbeing.

In the coming weeks, I would love to share some stories of people in our school community who have shown inner or outer compassion. I hope you and your child feel encouraged and inspired by these stories. 

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Larissa Cameron