By Jill Bridge, Licensed School Counselor
It is the season of hope, love and joy for many as they celebrate the holidays, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. As people enter the holiday season they are embracing empathy, compassion, and kindness. Regardless of how large or small a gesture of kindness is, each gesture is a way to teach our kids, families and community about empathy and compassion. We shouldn’t need an award or recognition each and every time we show kindness. Knowing that you did something good and kind should be an intrinsic motivator to repeat it again and again. The goal should not be fame and fortune but about knowing that the kind act was meaningful and impacted another person’s life in a positive way.
Empathy is feeling or understanding what someone else is feeling. It is important for kids and adults to realize that two people may have very different feelings about the same situation. Understanding this concept will help us put ourselves in others’ shoes; we take the time and energy to look at life from their perspective. Their viewpoint may not be the same as yours but it is important to realize that is ok. For example, I can like you, I can respect you, but I don’t have to have the same feelings and thoughts as you. We are all different, and as such, we need to respect those differences.
Once the person has the ability to understand another’s perspective, the person can start to develop empathy for others, which can evolve into compassion. When you have empathy for others, you can say or do many things to show care and concern. Saying something kind or doing something helpful for others are examples of showing compassion. Imagine what our community would be like if we took that extra moment to think about another’s feelings and did something to show compassion. As a family, talk about ways you and your children can show compassion for others. During the holidays, there are a variety of opportunities to show compassion-some that cost money while others don’t cost a dime. For example, you can contact the animal shelter and help take care of the animals, you can donate to the Salvation Army red kettles, shovel a neighbor’s driveway, leave a note and/or word of encouragement for a coworker, or any idea your family holds dear.
Kindness is an overall theme that emerges when we model empathy and compassion, with kindness being the end result. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. How do we decide when we are being compassionate or spreading kindness? Can they be the same thing but labeled differently? They definitely can be. The list of ways to show compassion above are ways to show kindness. When you are being compassionate you are also being kind. In order to know the best ways to be compassionate and kind we need to walk in the other person’s shoes, and use empathy.
Empathy, kindness and compassion are skills that are taught. They are not innate traits, they are learned through discussions and by seeing/hearing examples. Be a role model that helps others understand empathy, compassion and kindness. We are role models for children, family members and even strangers. Embrace the holidays, spread kindness and cheer through using empathy and compassion. Kindness goes a long way not just during the holidays but each and every day of the year.