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From knowledge to compassion action

Published on: December 30, 2013

The second major Seeds of Compassion event took place a few hours later at Key Arena. Billed as a discussion about how we turn "feel good into real good" (to quote Seeds organizer Daniel Kranzler), it was instead a sort of organic continuation of this morning's conversation about what we know about the nature - and necessity - of compassion.

Once again, the stage was set with a panel beyond compare; this time, John Gottman, Bob Marvin, Karen Gordon, Roger Weissberg, and my personal hero, Mary Gordon, founder of the spectacularly successful Roots of Empathy program.

Moderator Mark Greenberg asked the Dalai Lama to open with a few remarks about the practice of compassion. "As soon as you practice compassion in daily life," His Holiness said, "then practicing compassion itself brings inner strength, calmness, loss of fear, and physical health - and of course, sound sleep. Very important! I love my sleep. Eight hours, sometimes nine!"

He went on to give the most approachable definition of compassion I've heard to date: "On the first level, compassion is: If you can help serve others, do it. If you can't help, refrain from harming others. That is compassion." Seems a simple enough goal for starters; like a Hippocratic oath for the soul.

John Gottman, founder of the Bringing Baby Home program and always a brilliantly entertaining speaker, fielded a question from the Dalai Lama about the difference between compassion given to an infant by a father versus a mother. A mother is a patient teacher, Gottman says, while a father is like another child: often less patient, flightier and more easily bored. He says research proves that this actually teaches the baby important skills, like independence and emotional regulation. "Fathers contribute an enormous amount, and nobody's more surprised about this than fathers," Gottman says.

Mary Gordon brought the house down with her story of Darren, the tough-as-nails foster child who took part in a Roots of Empathy program at school (read his story near the end of this article). I was sitting next to ParentMap publisher Alayne Sulkin and her twin sister, Andrea, and all three of us were moved to tears, as I always am by Darren's story. Gordon summed up by saying, "Empathy and Compassion is within us. It doesn't always take a village to raise a child; sometimes it takes a child to raise a village."

His Holiness ended the session with a call for a concrete plan for teaching social/emotional skills in schools, "from kindergarten to university.

"Ultimately," His Holiness says, "that's a preparation for world peace."

That's the action part of this whole thing - a plan for moving forward and really making a tangible difference. I will be watching for more on this at future events; after all, the Seeds organizers have a date with the Dalai Lama for one year from now, to report on the real, measurable progress that's been made in sustaining and spreading the goals of this event.

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