Cultivating Compassion in the Classroom…and Everywhere Else

I’m not going to lie, I’m hesitant to write this article.  Why?  Well…I don’t really follow the fads of teaching.  As a general rule, I believe the flashier the professional development, the more unneeded or gilded it probably is.  I consider myself an educator whose classroom is driven by researched or evidence-based strategies.  Ideas of compassion, sympathy, empathy, and more recently growth-mindset all have their naysayers (like everything in education).  There’s definitely some questions of the ability to teach these elements of caring and growing to our students.  So, discussing compassion in the classroom goes against my beliefs a bit.  

However, we live in a time unlike any other in history.  This is mainly due to social media, I believe.  We are quick to blame or even attack others because of their beliefs.  Just look at what’s been going on around the world.  Unfortunately, acts of terrorism and police brutality are almost a daily occurrence.  There’s so much…hatred…for those we don’t seem to understand.  So, for the sake of possibly passing on compassion to the next generation, I will continue.

When covering this topic in my AP Psychology class, the conversation goes something like this:

The terms are attribution theory and fundamental attribution error.  So, basically, whenever we encounter someone’s actions, we can look at it from two angles: either the person’s disposition/personality drove their actions or the situation around them caused the person’s actions.  More often than not, we see other’s actions through the dispositional view and our actions as being caused by the situation surrounding us; this is the fundamental attribution error.  Unfortunately, viewing others’ actions through the dispositional lense often elicits a negative judgement of that person while viewing our actions from the situational lense evokes a much more compassionate view.    

For example, when we see someone speeding down the highway, we may view that person as being a jerk or not caring for the safety of the other drivers on the road.  The person’s disposition or personality is one of self-centeredness.  However, when we are speeding, we tend to have a good reason that can be explained by the situation around us.  I was speeding because I needed to get to the hospital.  I was speeding because there’s a puppy starving ahead and it needs food.  You get the point.  Generally, when we view actions through the situational lense, we are more compassionate versus when we view actions through the dispositional lense.    

I believe it goes without saying that his world needs more compassionate people.  I implore you, whenever you can, before you decide to view someone’s actions from the viewpoint of their disposition, just consider the situation.  Maybe there is a very plausible reason they have performed their action.  Even if you’re wrong, you’ll be left viewing the world through a lense that is more compassionate and more likely to positively affect others with that compassion.  As a byproduct, you’ll be a happier, less cynical person, and who doesn’t want to be around that person?

2 thoughts on “Cultivating Compassion in the Classroom…and Everywhere Else

  1. Pingback: Back to the Future of Education – The Effortful Educator

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