AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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COMPASSION

Compassion incorporates qualities of love, mercy and pity in aiding others or in understanding their suffering.

"By compassion we make others' misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also." Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1642

In the American Educator's special feature on compassion, John Agresto wrote: "True compassion has an inkling of justice in it, and of commitment. Sentimentality knows only of feelings and self." Too often we misidentify sympathy as compassion. We've provided a variety of activities that we hope will educate students from mere sentimentality to true compassion. Compassion is a virtue of action as well as emotion. It moves us to act for what is right and just, and to help our fellow man and community.

Examples of compassion from history and literature:

  • Diary of Anne Frank
  • King Lear
  • Death of a Salesman
  • Grapes of Wrath
  • Billy Budd

Any literature inviting us to step into the shoes of another person, to share their perspective and experiences in vivid imagination is relevant to cultivating compassion.

The more seriously the work takes its message, the better – therefore, tragedy is more likely to demonstrate compassion than comedy; and history and realism more likely than fantasy and escape.

Classroom Activities