Can we teach compassion?

At Rutgers University last week, an 18-year old freshman decided to participate in secretly videotaping a male student having an encounter with another man. The young man whose privacy was invaded took his life as a result of being exposed on the internet. This tale is tragic on so many levels. What would compel two young people – one in the role of bystander – to decide to inflict this kind of humiliation on a classmate? Would the exposed young man have faced similar anguish to the point of taking his life if he had been filmed with a girl? Should we actively be preparing our students for a new definition of privacy in the 21st century? I think so! This story left me with more questions than answers.

However, at Tuesday’s community meeting, I found some answers. The rising leaders of a group at SGS, Richard’s Rwanda – Impuwe, delivered a motivational presentation that highlighted the group’s inspirational founder, an SGS alumna currently in 10th grade, as well as their on-going mission to help girls in Rwanda become empowered women. Their presentation included two very powerful video clips that are MUST view for all of us:

Richard’s Rwanda – Impuwe
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFxMZaBx4pc

Girl Effect
http://www.girleffect.org/video

“Impuwe” is Rwandan for compassion, and also stands for “inspire and motivate powerful, undiscovered women with education.”

I myself left community meeting inspired and hopeful. The choice that Jessica and her classmates made years ago to help others who are very different from them presents itself in stark contrast to the choice made at Rutgers University. I believe that compassion and empathy can indeed be taught; and that they are an important part of working and learning collaboratively in a diverse community. I also believe that SGS graduates will make different choices because of what they learn from their teachers and from each other. As the girl effect video reminds us, we all face divergent paths that have much to do with how we are guided.

As the Dalai Lama told us a few years ago on his visit to Seattle, “With an open heart and joyful mind, I promise to practice compassion- to be kind to myself and to others and, especially, to be kind to every child whose life touches mine, from near or far, for today and always”