Why Compassion Matters for Our Kids
An interview about fostering compassion with Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D.
There is a story about the white man, who, at a KKK rally, appearing to be a Klansman, was chased down and attacked, until a teenage African-American woman laid on top of him shielding him from the blows? That was a young Keshia Thomas, whose act of compassion was heroic.
While empathy is a cornerstone of a civilized society, then compassion is the foundation. There’s research to back that acts of kindness towards others feels good. Compassion has a “pay it forward” effect, influencing others to behave, well, compassionately.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Institute, clues us in to the power of compassion – especially for our kids. — Laurel Moglen, Managing Web Editor, TMC
What is the difference between compassion and empathy?
Empathy is much simpler than compassion. Empathy emerges from understanding what someone else is feeling. Compassion arises from the urge to take action to help alleviate someone else’s suffering.
Is compassion linked to the survival of our species?
Ayn Rand said sympathy is the enemy of human progress. I think this idea is dead wrong.
Compassion is a fundamentally adaptive trait to us as humans. We survived because of our capacity to fold into collectives that achieve much bigger things – cooperatively. It’s clear we need to take care of our offspring – we don’t lay eggs and walk away. We take care of ours – (for upwards of 40 years!). We have the biology and mechanism to bypass self-interest for the better of the whole.
For example, research was done at the Moral Cognition Lab at Harvard, to support that when you give people the opportunity to cooperate or defect from a game. It takes longer to defect because the core instinct is to trust and cooperate. As a species, that gives us much more than competing against one another and survival of the fittest.
To be clear, nobody is suggesting there’s no place for competition or self-preservation. It’s just that the pendulum has been a little more overly weighted towards the individualistic approach. Ultimately, a cooperative care-taking element is of equal value.
How does our kids’ behaving compassionately benefit them?
- It strengthens their capacity for empathy.
- It influences kids to be more emotionally balanced. Therefore, they’re able to be sensitive to others without getting overwhelmed themselves.
- It habituates kids to help others, which is important for building up kids’ repertoire of experiences where helping is associated with positive emotional experience. This in turn boosts motivation to help others in the future. Related to this, behaving compassionately can increase a kids sense of inner heroism, and increase their sense of purpose and agency.
- It helps them achieve more social success, by promoting meaningful and supportive friendships.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and science director of the Greater Good Science Center, where she oversees the GGSC’s Expanding Gratitude project.
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