This article first appeared on Thepositivepsychologypeople.com
The Syrian crisis has been the most frequent topic of discussion in my twins’ Global Perspectives class. I love the concept of the class – they access media coverage from around the world and see the same event covered from different perspectives. A great way to challenge their unconscious biases and broaden their perspective, or so one would think.
But then they go on to do something that I think totally defeats the purpose. They critically analyze the news, but in what’s been called “motivated reasoning”, process the new information through the filter of their preexisting worldview. Which means that it often leads to what their teacher calls a drunk’s bar conversation, where they adamantly defend their positions and become all the more certain of their views.
What Children Learn is Important
At the breakfast table one day though, one of the twins was reading the story of a refugee family, one of many that they had read over the past few weeks. But when she looked up, something had changed within her. “Mommy!” she cried in alarm, “this family was just like us – they worked in good jobs, their children went to good schools. Their daughter did ballet, their two sons played soccer and basketball. And look what happened to them…” as she trailed off in disbelief. Somehow, the fact that most of the people were living normal lives before the crisis had evaded her for so long. And somehow this was all she needed to feel genuine empathy for them.
It’s true that critical reasoning without empathy simply leads to cynicism and disconnect. To be moved by the world, and to be motivated to help, we need to step out of our own bubbles and walk in the shoes of others, albeit metaphorically. Judging from my daughter’s reaction, I figure one of the best ways of doing so is to see commonalities with ourselves and others.
Luckily, as humanity, what we have in common extends way deeper than the superficial differences of race, religion and nationality. We cry in pain and react in fear. We strive for more and hope for a better future. We love with passion and find strength through our relationships. And we all yearn for meaning, the most human of all aspirations.
Planting the Seed for Future Growth
When we appreciate this common humanity, we move one step closer to the Dalai Lama’s vision of universal compassion. It’s not an easy feat, as Daniel Goleman rightly points out. But if we were to plant the seeds of compassion today, through experiences, practices and perspectives, we can live in the hope that they will flower one day and bring much needed change in the lives of future generations.