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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 63 “Younger people are still growing, mentally and physically, so everything is fresh,” he continued. “The older generation has cer- tain ideas fixed in our brains. The reality is changing day by day, but our methods of dealing with it come out of old ways of think- ing. I feel the younger generation finds it easier to see the new real- ity, easier to change their perceptions. I think my generation, who have created a lot of problems on this planet, now have to give the responsibility to young people. Now you have to handle it.” THINK THAT ALL sentient beings were once your mother, sug- gests a Buddhist contemplation to expand our gratitude and lov- ing-kindness. See all beings as your child and you are their mother, says another Buddhist injunction. The Dalai Lama’s understand- ing of compassion begins with a mother’s love for her baby, and that love is at the heart of a program for schools called Roots of Empathy. Because the love of a mother for her child is the world’s gold standard of unbiased compassion. Mary Gordon, the creator of Roots of Empathy, speaks with the lovely, almost Irish lilt of her native Newfoundland. “I believe that you cannot teach compassion, and you cannot teach empa- thy,” she said to me from her offices in Toronto. “Empathy and compassion are caught, they’re not taught. You catch them by being the direct recipient or by watching and imitating.” Empathy is taught (or caught) in Roots of Empathy by bring- ing mothers and infants into the classroom. In schools in North America and several countries internationally that have adopted the program, a mother and child visit the class once a month throughout the year. The students form their own relationships with the mother and infant, noting their own emotions while observing the mother’s care for her child. In her book, Roots of Empathy, Gordon describes how the process works: The children will be coached by the instructor to observe the parent-child relationship, the baby’s development, the baby’s temperament, their own temperament and that of their class- mates. They will learn about infant safety and issues that have an impact on their own well-being and security. They will learn how an understanding of temperament and gaining in- sights into their own emotions and those of others leads to empathy and builds rich human relationships. “The agent for the learning, for building social and emotional understanding and compassion,” Gordon told me, “is the baby, and the baby’s relationship to the mother. That’s why we don’t work with just the baby. It’s the power of that very first loving relationship in life that nurtures us into humanity.” For Gordon, this observation of the mother-child relationship PHOTOBYRAFALGERSZAK