Compassion, a mark of a substance

Recently, I participated in a ritual of the American Public Education System known as Parent Teacher Conferences. In this ritual, parents who have had to take off from work meet for a brief few minutes with a teacher who is anxiously waiting for the time to expire so they can go home. Most of the time, the parents participating in the ritual are only doing so because their child (my youngest son, in this case) are struggling in school.

For the most part, this ritual went fairly well for us. My wife and I met with all of our sons teachers. All of them said roughly the same things: smart kid, quiet, participates when asked, stares off and easily distracted, just needs to make up missing work and all will be well.

All of them, that is, save one. That one said similar things, but not the same. He complimented us on the work that we were obviously doing to help our son, complimented us on being at the conference. He did acknowledge that making up the missing work could help his grade, but rather than talk about how we could all work to help our son see the value of the process, he spoke without compassion, defending his position of punishing our sons poor performance in his class.

As I said, all the teachers acknowledge (as did we) that our son is having problems with school right now. We didn’t justify those, nor did we ask any of the teachers to make special arrangements to allow our son to answer to a different set of rules. My wife and I have both been educators, and we know how challenging it is. We know our son is not making things easier.

But all the other teachers spoke with compassion for our son, and for our predicament.

Compassion is characterized by a sympathetic demeanor for the challenges of others. Most of the teachers that have been watching our son struggled had compassion for our situation, and they also manifested compassion for our sons. They acknowledged that the classes are difficult, that not every child does well, that many are struggling, and that this time of transition is a challenge for even the best and brightest students. They acknowledged that the diversity of information being covered, the breadth and depth, can feel overwhelming. And they acknowledged that, because of high stakes testing, it is unfortunate that some students get steamrolled in the need to cover information for the majority.

They had compassion for us and for our son.

In turn, we had compassion for those good teachers, trying to help open our sons awareness to the fact that he can accomplish more than he knows if he will just apply himself. We had compassion for them in the fact that our son is just one of many students that are likely having similar struggles and that not all parents are as involved in trying to help their child figure things out and master the process.

All but this one teacher.

To be fair, perhaps he has been burned by trying to act with compassion in the past.

Perhaps he is just tired of feeling like he needs to be the one to adapt.

Perhaps he feels like every time he acts with compassion he is taken advantage of, or the lesson is not learned, or some other negative outcome is foisted upon both the student and society as a result.


I’m trying very hard to not hold against him his inability to show compassion for my child. (I couldn’t care less whether he has compassion for me or my wife). And I am also trying to learn the lesson of compassion anew in this situation.

As a man of substance, compassion should be part of my stock in trade, a primary tool in my conceptual EDC.

In my experience, most people who act in a contrary manner toward us do so because they feel they have been wronged, poorly treated, or in some other way minimized by others. When someone feels wronged, that individual has two options open to them: Be sad (which is often interpreted as weakness) or be mad (which is a show of artificial strength). Because mad (screaming, yelling, throwing things, tantrums) is not often acceptable in civilized society, a more subtle form of scorn and disdain takes its place. And when an individual is acting with scorn and disdain for others, there is no room left for change and growth.

Hence, my need for compassion.

Compassion defuses anger, in all of its forms. Compassion opens the door to change and growth. And since men of style and substance are champions of change and growth, compassion should always be found in the way we act toward others.

I am working to show this teacher compassion.

I hope he will be open to change and growth as a result, and perhaps be open to showing compassion to others in the future.

Sadly, I think it may be too late for my son.

For him, we will have to try other solutions.

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