Teaching Compassion

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photo by Jackie Hobbins

It is one thing to teach your kid how to eat with a fork, or pee in the toilet—not easy feats, but at least there are some concrete steps. But how do we teach compassion? Whether or not you have kids, you are no doubt an Auntie, Uncle or maybe just a good friend to another family in your neighborhood, and it most definitely takes a village to raise a child.

Our boys are 1 1/2 and 3. Though the hubby and I have done lots of volunteering, we weren’t sure if they were old enough to start doing that sort of thing with them. So, when there came an opportunity to feed some homeless folks that stay at my church on Saturday nights through the winter, we thought, why not give it a go?

At least once a month, we spend a couple of hours on Saturday making breakfast burritos to serve early on Sunday morning. It is becoming a new family tradition and I think, one of our favorites. The first time we did it, our three-year-old Tommy helped. He got a lesson in personal hygiene, cooking and you guessed it, compassion. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Tommy, do you know who we are making these burritos for?

Tommy: The people staying at the church.

Me: Yes, but they are staying at the church because they don’t have any homes. They don’t have houses to stay in and it is cold to sleep outside in winter, so they come to stay at the church. People without homes are called homeless.

Tommy: Why don’t they have homes?

Me: Well, it’s complicated. There are probably a lot of reasons.

Tommy: Mom, it’s okay, the builders are building them houses! (Referring to the houses being built in our neighborhood.)

Me: Well sweetie, those houses aren’t for the people that are staying at the church.

Tommy: Why not?

Me: Because those houses cost money, and most of these people probably don’t have money to buy those houses.

Tommy: Why not?


Our little guy, very proud of his burrito making skills.

His answer seems to oversimplify the problem, but in fact, giving houses to homeless people is a new strategy that has been taken on by the State of Utah and it has been overwhelmingly successful. Since 2005, Utah has reduced it’s homeless population by 74% by providing homeless folks with the stability of permanent housing first, and then in helping them deal with chronic issues that have contributed to their homelessness in the first place. 

I think Utah and Tommy have it right. I think if we could take a few more of the world’s problems and approach it with the innocence of a three-year-old… wisdom that isn’t cluttered by life’s baggage and the times you’ve been burned, perhaps we could bring a little more good into the world. Now who’s teaching who about compassion?

Where did you learn about compassion?


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