Monday, March 24, 2008

Teaching Empathy: The Seeds of Compassion

by DiAnne Grieser
"I am going to the Seeds of Compassion website today to see if I can sign up for some Dalai Lama events. I'm hoping he'll show up, given that China is calling him a "monster with a human face," given the uptick in Chinese controversy regarding the Tibetan liberation movement".
He is to come to Seattle for five days next month with a focus on compassion - at home, in school and in the community. There are events for children, parents, teachers and therapists. On Saturday there will be a city-wide rally and on Sunday, youth from all over the state will gather to show "What Compassion Looks Like." It will also be broadcast globally via the Internet in 24 languages.Parent Map had a substantial article on it and I happened to pick it up in the lobby of the hospital where I work. As a follower of Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, I had to take a look when I say the title, "Teaching Empathy: Seattle Launches a Compassion Movement." (See also yesterday's Seattle Times story.)The classroom program is called Roots of Empathy and has an 11 year track record of reducing aggression and increasing empathy in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is being used here in 10 different schools.
Every three weeks during the school year, a baby and parent visit the classroom (kindergarten to eighth grade) with a Roots of Empathy instructor. The children learn about the baby’s development and milestones. They ask questions. They follow the baby's progress. As they become engaged, they can talk about "their" baby for hours. The babies break down barriers. The children lose their self consciousness when the baby visits. The baby comes right down onto the floor. They may give it a bath. The children learn to hold it carefully, and gender distinctions melt away.
Love is the key. Children become protective of the baby, and of each other. It's the Golden Rule in Christianity and they put it into practice as they develop empathy. They refuse to allow others to be mistreated. They become able to talk about how they're feeling.
The focus is EMPATHY rather than honesty or forgiveness. Empathy is the antidote for bullying, which plagues schools. National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) called bullying a “public health problem.” In their study, as much as 85% of the time, when bullying occurs, other students are standing around watching. Centers for Disease Control found that each day, as many as 160,000 children stay home from school because they’re afraid of being bullied. Other studies show that 50% of children aren't ready for Kindergarten and what is holding them back is social incompetence. University of Chicago researchers analyzed 300 research studies and found that 50% of academic success depends on social/emotional literacy, the other 50% on intelligence.
Andrew Meltzoff at University of Washington believes empathy is hard-wired in infants, to some degree, as when they imitate (such as tongue protrusion.) He told Parent Map, “We believe that when infants imitate, they are becoming ‘like the other person’ in action, with simple body movements,” Meltzoff tells ParentMap. “Later that can flower into empathy, which is the ability to become like the other person in emotion and perspective.”
Studies on the effectiveness of the Roots of Empathy program hae shown a positive outcome. The "Seeds of Compassion" group visualizes a nationwide paradigm shift, a movement. They intend to literally "spread love." Listening Mothers teaches parents to tune into their babies' emotional needs. Seeds of Compassion will stimulate growth of similar groups and programs to nurture compassion in children. The local group will meet with the Dalai Lama again in one year, when visits again, and report on improvements in education, parenting, child care and legislation.
The current Dalai Lama’s name is Tenzin Gyatso. He is the 14th Dalai Lama and the first Dalai Lama ever to travel to the west. He promotes nonviolent struggle following China's invasion of Tibet in 1950 and in 1989, he received the Nobel Peace Prize and a Congressional Gold Medal last year. He has written more than a dozen books on compassion and kindness. President Bush gave out the Congressional Gold Medal last year, a seeming irony.
Last week I wrote about various measure of happiness. I can vouch for some of the research studies at least anecdotally just from the population I have see clinically and alot of my after-school work is teaching social skills and interaction. I also did a Post-Doc in the lab of Kuhl and Meltzoff. I was also a victim of bullying as a child, and have worked to heal and balance ever since. I've worn a solid gold Kwan Yin for fifteen years, since visiting Thailand. As a mother, I did not allow videos or toys of aggression and there were already some programs in the schools for my son, to reduce aggression. I saw the Dalai Lama in 1979 when he visited the University of Washington, Kane Hall, and the event was disrupted by Maoists. I am thrilled to be able to participate (if I can still get into a program.)".

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