Several weeks ago I was talking with Ruby on the phone, congratulating her for winning her grade's 'compassion award.' She's won this award before, and each time she does, we all feel proud of her. She told me about getting the award and I asked her, "Do you know what 'compassion' means?"
She paused for a very, very, long time and then said, "It means that I'm a very, very,good girl." I could hear that she was embarrassed saying that out loud but it was also clear that she didn't really have a way of describing compassion. I said, "Well, yes you are, but would you like to know what the word 'compassion' means?" She said that she would.
There was an offer that I immediately regretted making. I started with things like, "It means when someone sees that someone else needs help and you go and help them." I quickly realized that that isn't compassion it's helpfulness - a good thing but not the same thing. I said, "No, that's no quite it."
"What is it then?" her voice full of curiosity.
"It's when someone feels sad and you go to them and spend time with them and listen to why they are sad." I quickly realized that this isn't really compassion it's more like empathy and the giving of time and attention. Not quite the same thing. I said, "No, that's not quite what it is."
"OK," she said, waiting for my next example.
I thought and I thought until my thinker was sore. I know what it means but an example just wouldn't come to mind. And then it hit me.
"Ruby, it means that you are a very, very good girl."
She was completely satisfied with the answer she had given in the first place.
Sometimes I want to complicate things way too much.