The Nature of Compassion
Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Our discussion in class this week centered around the Tibetan fable "From the Elephant Pit" and the complexities of compassion it evokes. Students read the short arguments they had prepared on the question of whether compassion can/should be shown in all situations. Was the hunter in the story foolish to have shown compassion to a man who turned out to be greedy and untrustworthy? Had his misfortune not turned around in the end, would his compassion have been worth it? When should we show compassion to others and how do we discern when it may not be in our best interest? Or perhaps, as one student explained, we should always show compassion, no matter what the end result.
While everyone agreed that the ideal would be to exhibit compassion in all circumstances, there was an acknowledgement and ensuing discussion about the practical barriers that arise in meeting this ideal: fear of danger to ourselves or retribution, ignorance (of those different from ourselves), stereotyping, helplessness (what can I really do?), narcissism and social disconnect, a sense that some individuals may not be as "deserving" of compassion as others.
Our time spent on this topic provided the opportunity for students to contemplate how an ethical debate would differ in substance and approach versus the policy debate they engaged in last week. There were many aspects of this topic we did not have time to cover, but I hope students will continue to think through. For example - is compassion a natural instinct or a learned behavior? I encourage all of you to watch this TED video (Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.) by Louie Schwartzberg, a cinematographer and creator of awe-inspiring films. Ask yourselves - what is the connection between gratitude and compassion?
Homework - Our Next Debate!
Students voted to take on the topic of Gun Control for our next in-class debate, to be held in two weeks (May 19th). I have assigned the students to teams, but will not disclose which side each will argue until the day of the debate. I suggest we narrow our debate topic to:
Should civilian possession of hand guns be banned and/or severely restricted?
For homework this week everyone should be researching the issues relevant to gun control. A wide array of links and resources on the topic can be found HERE.
We will share our individual research in class next week and break into teams to strategize and prepare for the debate.
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