Tag Archives: Caring

What is it with people?

I moved apartments at the end of July and I now live an easy bike ride away from school. I often ride in the company of a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. As we rode in this morning, my friend asked, “What is it with people? Do they actually not care or do they really not look?”

It’s a good question, one that I ask of myself and of others with some regularity. Let’s explore further.

“What is it with people? Do they actually not care?”

Care is a verb. As I have written similarly about love and about giving, it is very important to understand this. Caring means acting in a way that is responsive to those around us. I actually disagree with the standard dictionary definition here, which suggests that caring is a feeling or an action.

A feeling is not enough. To care is a verb and verbs are actions.

We cannot claim to care if we then proceed to do nothing, though unfortunately I think this is often the case. I suspect that for many people, feeling is enough. A moment of pause in their own lives while they look in the general direction of someone else and then right back to normal. After all, how often do we hear, “I do care but I just can’t do anything about it”?

I think this is wrong.

Again, caring is an action. True caring requires something from us, some sort of participation that goes beyond personal acknowledgement of a situation. We don’t need to donate a kidney to the next person who walks by in pain, but if we claim to care about people, it’s not too much trouble to look them in the eye and genuinely ask, “How are you?”.

Interestingly, however, there is a lot of literature about “self-care” out there and we’re pretty clear what we mean in regards to ourselves. We do what makes us feel good because we want to do it. It only makes sense to apply the same to others, but we don’t stop to think about what others might need. We are too wrapped up in our own minds for that.

Do some people actually not care? Yes, I think that is the case. Care is one of those words we have thrown around and we have neglected what it actually means. We talk about it but we don’t act on it. This is a problem.

“What is it with people? Do they really not look?”

I know a lot of people who use “being busy” as an excuse for their myopia. The problem is that this excuse becomes our way out of interacting with anyone or anything not directly related to our personal wants and needs. We avoid looking because looking would mean that we have to do something. And if we turn away, who are we? We aren’t willing to go here.

Not looking is an active choice to disengage. This choice is indicative of indifference to those around us, and both history and life experience teach that indifference is at least as harmful as outright harm. Sometimes, people really don’t look. Sometimes, people really cannot be bothered. This is a problem.

Likewise, it is common to assume other people will look, perhaps people who better understand a situation or who have been around longer. The argument might go, “Perhaps I’m not the right person to get involved.” Well, why not? Who is? It is also easy to deny responsibility with excuses like, “It’s just not my place to intervene.” Well, what is your place? How would you like to be treated in this situation if roles were reversed? You are now culpable.

We could go down a rabbit hole of hypotheticals here and if we do that, the principle must remain. For instance, if you see a child drowning, do you jump in? Psychology would say that you’re more likely to act if you’re alone than in a crowd of people, but I think this one is pretty easy. Yes, you see the child and you jump in. Are other situations so different?

How do we fix this?

I admit that this post is largely negative and I’m sorry about that. My friend’s question on our ride to work really got to me because I really do try to make the world a better place. I really try to do the right thing and to be involved even when I’d rather not be. This is true in a variety of situations, from answering the phone call or message that will likely lead to a very late night to approaching an administrator when I have concerns about a colleague.

Doing the right thing matters.

How do we make the world a better place when people refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything amiss at all?

Here is what I can suggest:

  1. Decide what matters to you and live according to those principles. Become the person you uphold in your mind as a good person.
  2. Understand that everything you do is a choice and make choices based on your principles.
  3. Hold yourself and others accountable to what has been said and done. Ensure that what is done aligns with what is said.
  4. Treat people well. Think long and hard about what that means and act accordingly.
  5. Do the hard work to do the right thing because these are the things that matter.

For a long time, I’ve collected quotes that I’ve come across in any number of places. I don’t remember where I first read the motto of Jainism, but I think it fits well here. Allow me to close with that.

Parasparopagraho Jivanam – The function of souls is to help one another

On Being Loved

If you have as many true friends as you can count on one hand, that’s a lot.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it’s stayed with me for years. It has held me up when I’ve been alone, afraid, and unconvinced that there was such a thing as feeling better. It’s what keeps me holding my friends close and trying to be to others who they are to me.

Since friends are special and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I wanted to say a few things about friends, about the people who have come to be my people. February 14 is the day we’re supposed to remind our people that we love them, though I try not to let mine forget.

True friends are the people who have stopped what they were doing to be happy or sad with me, who tell me when I’m wrong and cheerfully admit when I’m right, who have welcomed me into their arms and homes and lives all over the world, who have seen me grow, who want for me what I want and don’t mind how often that changes. These are the people who I turn to at any time for any reason because they’re always glad to have me. These are the people who I can (and have) called at odd hours with laughter and with tears. These are the people who witness my life the way that I witness theirs.

Like any relationship, that with friends ebbs and flows. The people who immediately come to mind when I think of counting on one hand (which, admittedly, is a very rare occurrence) have remained largely static for some time, but I always find it interesting to observe how, why, and when that changes. Life changes. People change.

But what doesn’t change is the warmth and love that all of these people make me feel. Being reminded, flooded, with all of that love augments my desire to bring warmth and love to everyone else. I’ve found loving-kindness meditation to be particularly helpful in guiding me to let go of frustrations, irritations, and anger that get in the way of the compassion and caring that I prefer to feel. It’s also a good reminder of everyone who loves me – and I admit that sometimes I do need a reminder.

Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who don’t feel like they have people. The circle of people in loving-kindness meditation ultimately extends to all humanity, so I can assure you that you’ve got me.

DSC02290 (1)
Made by Hmong women in Sapa, Vietnam

To all of my people, thank you for everything. Love you now, love you always.

A Toolkit to Improve the World

In much of my past writing on education, I discuss the need for experts at living who are caring, compassionate global citizens who aim to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Experts at living would be creative and critical thinkers, effective problem-solvers, and dedicated to altruism in order to benefit humanity. Reframing schools in terms of problem-solving would expose students to the myriad problems and suffering that exist, and provide them with experience and practice developing their expertise. Dealing with these complex problems would have the added benefit of bringing real moral, ethical, and global issues into our classrooms and conversations. This would also create opportunities for dialogue, an essential aspect of conflict resolution.

In order to build a better world and create experts at living, schools need to provide students with a clear set of values that will act as their “toolkit” for making the world a better, more peaceful place.

The values that I will discuss below – cooperation, altruism, empathy, compassion, and caring – come from an unfinished book that I began writing with a colleague over a year ago. We’ve taken a hiatus that was longer than the time spent writing, but I would like to restart; I think we have some important things to say. Consequently, this blog post is intended to introduce to some of our ideas to a real audience to gauge how our work resonates and where we need additional thought. For purposes of the post, I’ll leave out the research (though there’s extensive evidence supporting all of these ideas) and include a list of further reading at the end.

The Values “Toolkit”

Cooperation
Neuroscience tells us that humans have evolved cooperative behaviors in order to survive as a species. Being able to communicate with each other, work together, and help one another has made the growth of civilizations possible. It has also created the prosperity that is far beyond anything seen with other species, yet unevenly distributed across the world.

Learning to get along with others is nearly always part of early schooling, often beginning much earlier than formal education. We teach very young children to share and play with others. We want them to work together to accomplish tasks. However, at the same time, we also begin instilling values of competition, with an emphasis on dominating others and being the best of the group. These competitive ideas exist in contrast to the cooperation that has created human society. We need to decide what message we want to send, which ought to be the message that will have a more positive impact on our world.

With cooperation as a value explicit in schooling, we could ensure that children left school understanding that cooperation is what makes the world a better place. We need classrooms, lessons, activities, and interactions that cultivate cooperative behaviors and emphasize the importance of cooperation. This way, students would come to understand that their actions can help us all have better lives.

Altruism
In order to make the world a better place, we need to help our young people develop into adults who identify as helpers, people who believe that assisting others is their responsibility. We know that children and young people behave altruistically and help others without prompting; there is empirical evidence alongside individual personal experience to prove it. As social creatures dependent on one another, it is also in the best interests of all people to help those around them.

Working together and helping those in need generally makes people feel good about themselves and what they’re doing. People of all ages look for volunteer opportunities. Knowing that, it is only logical that altruism should play a central role in our classrooms in order to purposefully develop it as a value that we deem important. We must capitalize on the helping tendencies already present in young children to help students see that their altruistic actions can positively impact and ultimately change society.

It is deeply part of what makes us human to be able to both cooperate and show concern for the well-being of others. Without these truly human qualities, we would not survive as either a species or individuals. Recognizing this allows us to more fully embrace them and encourage these values within schools and education. We want to build a world that emphasizes deep, meaningful altruistic relationships with others so that we are all better off.

Empathy
Empathy requires us to put ourselves in another’s shoes and act accordingly, whether as a result of our feelings about the other or about ourselves in a reversed situation. Empathy takes practice. Students need to first learn to recognize that others may be feeling a certain way and then determine how to respond in a variety of circumstances. Finally, they need to learn how to communicate with those around them, particularly in cases of disagreement. Empathy will help guide students’ understanding of one another during periods of conflict, which will have an overall positive impact on their interactions.

Therefore, putting students in situations in classrooms and amongst peers that work to develop kindness will enhance the empathy that they feel for others. This will ultimately impact the choices students make when making decisions that affect those around them. Empathy also plays a role in forgiveness, which is clearly tied to creating a better and more peaceful world. If we are able to forgive others for their actions against us, we will be more inclined to cooperate and work towards the benefit of all humanity.

Practicing empathy is an essential aspect of developing citizens who work to enhance the well-being of others and strive to make the world a better and more peaceful place for all. It forces us to consider others’ needs and the value that each individual has in society. If we want our students to develop values of empathy and caring for one another, adults must demonstrate them as a central tenet of our daily interactions. We need to act in ways that emphasize our human-ness, which means working to help each other in all that we do.

Compassion
Compassion for all living beings requires us to encourage students to look beyond their everyday lives and towards the world as a whole. We need classrooms, books, lessons, and activities that emphasize the importance of care and compassion for others, as well as the desire to cultivate happiness for others. Our students need to become more open-minded and more concerned with those around them. The more we do in schools to help students think, feel, and act compassionately, the more they will behave that way on their own.

Emphasizing compassion in our students is an essential aspect of developing citizens who care about others. Students must come to understand that they are part of an interdependent human society. Thus, their actions and behaviors have an impact on others and on the world. With this foundation, having compassion for others will positively impact students’ work in and outside of school to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

If we want our students to become citizens who participate in democratic societies, work towards peace, and care for all sentient beings, we need to help them understand that their actions now can and do have an impact on the future. Focusing on how to alleviate suffering can and should be an element of daily activities in schools. Recognizing the role that compassion plays in improving the world means that it should be nurtured and developed to help us reframe education to create a better and more peaceful world.

Caring
The necessity of caring for both others and oneself is vital if we are working to solve the world’s biggest, most pressing, and most important problems. We cannot solve these problems if we operate solely along individualistic lines. We must teach students to care about others if we want to make any impact at all. Care must be infused as a value throughout our education system as well as our society.

Creating cultures in school that mirror our hopes for society means that there will be congruence between what we communicate to students and what they actually see and experience. Far too often, there is little to no follow-through on the messages that we claim to send. If caring is not a central tenet of how students are treated and how they treat one another, we cannot shift schools into a system where we focus on the good of humanity. This is important for all students in all communities, but especially in circumstances where school provides the caring that might be lacking in other environments. All students need to believe that just as they are cared for, they can care for others.

We want our students to live in a world that is better than our own, which means that we must emphasize caring among, between, and for others in all that we do. This is how we will ensure that students leave school with the qualities that make us human. We need to emphasize caring in order to create a society and culture that value all sentient beings and collectively seek to make the world a better, more peaceful place.


All sentient beings deserve to live in a peaceful, sustainable world with minimal suffering. With their central role in developing the next generation of leaders, schools are particularly suited to this task. Creating a better world is far more worth our time than assessing students’ abilities to take multiple-choice tests. Educators should embrace this responsibility and seek to promote it in their schools.

We live in a world that is changing faster than the world has ever changed, and we are currently not providing our students with the tools to work within the new world that we will all inhabit before we know it. A guiding framework of core values – cooperation, altruism, empathy, compassion, and caring – can act as a starting point for schools and education systems that are truly dedicated to improving society.

Further Reading