Tag Archives: Compassion

The Tyranny of Saying “Good Job”: Parenting Without Borders, Part 4

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we’ll take a closer look at self-esteem in the context of parenting.

If you have kids or you’ve been around kids, I feel pretty confident in making the assumption that when your kid (or the kids you happen to be around at the time) do/does something well, you almost reflexively say, “Good job!” Of course, though — why wouldn’t we? We notice someone doing something well and we want to praise that, right? Well, it turns out that this might not be the optimal way of interacting with our little ones:

It turns out that when parents and educators send children the message that their needs and their individual happiness and dreams are more important than other things, like being a compassionate, ethical, hard-working person, it makes them unhappy.

I think that we can all agree that it’s probably a good idea that our children grow up to be compassionate, ethical, and hard-working, right? Not to mention, happy. It appears that somewhere along the way, parents got the idea that the best way to achieve these ends were to focus on a child’s self-esteem by telling him how good they are. As it happens, this may have been a perversion of the initial way of thinking about parenting and self-esteem:

But the earliest proponents of raising self-esteem to ensure children have a successful, productive future actually believed this could be done best through a child-rearing style that employed clear rules and limits. Research backs this up: it is parents who allow children freedom and independence within clearly set guidelines, while treating children with respect and love (as opposed to being top-down dictators) who tend to raise confident adults.

One of the best parts about the book Parenting Without Borders is that it give the reader a flavour of different cultures. And when it comes to this chapter, that’s very helpful. In North America, we’re used to focusing on individual happiness and to instill that in our kids, we often tell them how well they’re doing. This has the effect of kids thinking that they’re great. You might expect a child raised in North America to say, “I’m awesome!” If an American kid were to ask a Japanese kid how to say, “I’m awesome,” in Japanese, the Japanese kid would be dumbfounded, as this isn’t something that a Japanese kid would even think to say. Consider this:

Students reflect frequently, especially after a big event, like the annual sports day, or a field trip, or a class presentation, but also after more ordinary moments. On many class handouts our kids received at school, there was a space to write down, “what I can do better next time; what I’ll try to work harder on next time.” Children are taught the habit of always remaining attentive to how they can improve. (By contrast, children in our country are typically asked to reflect on what they did well.)

There’s even a word for this process of self-reflection in Japanese: hansei. How great that at such a young age, kids are learning how to reflect on their process. It’s almost like taking the scientific method and reappropriating it. Can you imagine how different American culture would be if every kid in America were taught to think about how they could have done better on an assignment rather than being giving the customary, “Good job, let’s go out for ice cream,” speech.

Now, I understand that some parents will balk at the idea of not telling their kid how well they’re doing and that’s not what I’m saying (nor is it what the author is saying). However, it’s important to consider the ramifications of our decisions to praise our kids, especially as it relates to labels that they then have to live up to:

A child who is told he is very smart, will begin to define himself through this label. While this sounds like it would be a good thing, even so-called positive labels can be harmful when they give a child a fixed view of himself, since it is a view he must protect.



What a lot of parents don’t see is what happens when we boost our kids too much. If we let “making kids feel good” be our guiding principle, we are buying short-term goodwill at the expense of their future resilience.

In this way, telling our kids that they are smart isn’t so much a nice thing to do as it is a curse. Telling them how smart they are might handcuff them to this label that they have to continually live up to. Not that we want to handcuff our children to labels, but might it better for them and for others if we handcuff them to labels that have them perpetuate actions of compassion and ethics?

Maybe it’s as Gross-Loh alludes to that telling kids how smart they are has more to do with how we feel. Maybe telling our kids they’re smart has to do with us wanting our kids to like us. Gross-Loh has certainly given us a lot to think about in this chapter, but before I close this post, I wanted to leave you with something else that can be done. That is, instead of telling our kids, “Good job,” what else can we say?

Dweck’s research shows, a good parent doesn’t undermine her child’s motivation through empty praise and encouragement. She scaffolds her child’s ability to face challenges and even accept failure as something that anyone can grow from.

So, instead of focusing on the outcomes and the end goal, maybe it might be better if we focus on the effort and the steps that our children take to get from A to Z.

The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

Have you ever broken the rules? If you’re answering honestly, no doubt, your answer should almost certainly be yes. If you drive, you’ve probably rolled a stop sign once or twice in your life. Or, you’ve probably at least barely gone over the speed limit, even if you were trying to maintain a speed below the limit. There’s always jaywalking. That is, you’ve probably crossed the street when you weren’t in the crosswalk when the walk sign was on the cross. What about taking office supplies from work? You may feel justified in doing so, but I bet if you read your contract or the rules/regulations of your organization, it’s not something that’s endorsed. There are probably plenty of other examples where you’ve broken a rule (accidentally or intentionally!), but there may only be a few (one?) where you’ve had an experience that changed your life.

I don’t necessarily mean that it changed your life in some profound way (although it may have). I’m speaking more towards those experiences that you’ll always remember. The lesson(s) you learned from the experience(s) was/were just what you needed at the time. Do you have one of those experiences? Now that you’re thinking of that experience, I wonder: did you receive a punishment for breaking the rules or did you get off with a warning?

I’d hazard a guess that if I polled those of you reading this article, the majority of you would say that the experience where you were left off with a warning was the one that stuck with you. And why is this? Empathy. Compassion. Kindness.

These are human expressions that tend to touch us in ways that the antithesis of these expressions don’t. It’s a tired sentiment, but the news is filled with negativity. As a result, experiences that show us the opposite of this negativity tend to shock us. This surprise tends to stick with us and the experience can teach us something we weren’t expecting.

I’d like to share an example that I think accentuates my point. I came across an answer on Quora to a question asking about people’s best experiences with police. This particular answerer, Andrew Bosworth, was 16 years old and on his way home from Sacramento to the Bay Area. He was really tired and knew he was driving somewhat erratically. He’d glance down at the odometer and he’d be just as likely to be going 20 mph over the speed limit as he would be going 20 mph under the speed limit. Eventually, he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol:

Instead of giving me a ticket, he pointed down the offramp to a place I could get some coffee and rest. He asked if I had enough money to get some coffee and offered to give me some if I didn’t. He said if I really couldn’t get back to an alert state that I should call a friend or my parents and get a ride because what I was doing wasn’t safe for myself or other drivers.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that getting a ticket would have had nearly as big an impact on my driving as the short, compassionate conversation that officer had with me that night.

While there are certainly times where some form of punishment may be more appropriate, I’d like to believe that in many cases, compassion and empathy can be just as, if not more, effective.


What Does the Dalai Lama Want for his Birthday?

The Dalai Lama turned 78 (does he look 78?) this past Saturday. If you were invited to his birthday party, what do you think he’d ask you to get for him? He’s clearly not a man who seeks out material possessions, so a new car/house wouldn’t be in order. Would you believe that all he wanted was empathy? No? Then, you should watch his birthday message.

Please, keep your own mind, your own heart, more compassionate. More sort of, spirit of, seriously or genuinely, sense of concern of others well-being. And with that sort of motivation, if possible, serve other, helping other, other people, also other animal, if you do not have the opportunity to serving, then at least, resisting harming them.

The laughing at the end is priceless. He has such an infectious laugh.

10 Things That I Can Do to Help Someone Else

It’s no secret that humans need each other to survive. With the way that our society is designed, we depend on each other for sustenance, love, friendship, and a whole host of other things. It’s not just in the big ways, though, too. Sometimes, we need someone to hold the door open for us because we have our hands full. Sometimes, we need someone to bail us out of a sticky situation. Maybe a nice stranger gives up the aisle seat on a transatlantic flight, so that it’ll be easier for you to walk around the plane with your newborn. There are lots of ways we can help each other out on this journey through life. As a result, I thought I’d list a few ideas about how I [you] can help someone else.

1. Ask, “What can I do to help you today?” Sometimes the simplest ways of helping [asking], can have the biggest impact.

2. Help someone find a job. If you have an unemployed friend, think about the people you know and if you might be able to connect your friend with a new opportunity.

3. Smile at a stranger. It’s contagious.

4. Do a chore that isn’t yours. It can be something small like washing the dishes or sweeping the kitchen. It could also be something big like doing the research for that trip to Tahiti or cutting the lawn.

5. Teach someone only something you know. The gifts you have in this world might not be realized until you share them with the world.

6. Let someone teaching you something. It’s also a great gift to let someone teach you something. Remember to keep an open mind

7. Be passionate about something. Maybe more than smiling, passion is contagious. Watching someone be really excited about something reminds us that we, too, have something that excites us in a similar way.

8. Listen — REALLY listen. It might come as no surprise to you how often conversations are really just about “waiting for your time to speak.” The next time someone is talking to you, really listen to what they have to say. It might shock you how the conversational dynamic changes.

9. Forgive him/her. Is holding that grudge really worth it?

10. Write a letter, send an email, and/or make a phone call to someone who has made a difference in your life. These little drops of gratitude can go a long way. I can guarantee you that hearing they made in a difference in your life will greatly brighten that person’s day.

Can We Make “Looking Down Your Nose” a Good Thing?

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I was going to be doing a post about Chrystia Freeland‘s book Plutocrats. I haven’t yet finished it, but there is something I wanted to talk about before I got to the end. I’m about halfway through the book and the main focus of the conversation is the 0.1% vs. the 1%. The sad truth in Freeland’s words is that those in the 1% continue to spend like they’re in the 0.1% (for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into right now). The important piece here is that they’re not happy with where they are — and they’re looking up.

The idea of the “grass is greener on the other side” seems to be a theme that runs throughout (at least the first half) of Freeland’s book. So, as I was reading, I thought, if people just looked down, they’d be a lot happier. Proverbially down, of course. And not in a pejorative fashion as in the phrase, “looking down your nose.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that someone’s always got it worse than you — why don’t we implement this as a way of being? Instead of being upset that we can’t buy the newest Bentley or Ferrari, why can’t we “look down” to the person next on the wealth list and realize that we have it better than they do? I hope it’s clear that I’m not suggesting that people think of themselves as “better than” the people who would follow them on a wealth list. I’m merely trying to emphasize how well that people have it and that if they compared themselves (down the chain) they’d probably feel better about themselves. My secret wish is that this would also foster more empathy within us.

So, I wonder… do you think that we can take back the phrase “looking down your nose at someone” and turn it into a good thing? Probably not, but I hope that the next time you hear someone say this (or the next time you think it?) you’ll remember my brief conversation about how much better we’d feel if we compared ourselves to those who had less than to those who have more.

The Psychology of Everything from Professor Paul Bloom

Here’s a great animated (!) 45-minute video from Professor Paul Bloom of Yale University explaining psychology through 3 case studies of compassion, racism, and sex. This video is fantastic in just how much you’ll learn about the different areas of psychology in less than 60 minutes. Take some time this Sunday to enlighten yourself about some of the important findings of psychology:


After having watched the video, what do you think? Any immediate thoughts or ideas? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Distinguishing the Action from the Actor

I had a moment of “world’s colliding” this afternoon when I sat down to catch up on some reading I started quite a while ago. The passage is worth repeating, so I thought I’d include it and then get back to the “world’s colliding” part.

The important point about the principle of compassion, as a basis for the exercise of justice, is that it is directed not toward actions, but toward the actor. Compassion demands that we condemn wrong actions and oppose them with all means necessary, while at the same time forgiving and maintaining an attitude of kindness toward the perpetrators of those actions. Just as, in theistic terms, God forbids sin while still loving the sinner, so we too should forcefully oppose wrong while maintaining concern for the wrongdoer. It is right to do this because, again, all human beings are capable of change. I think we all know this is from our own experience. After all, it is not uncommon for those who lead reckless lives when young to become responsible and caring as they gain in maturity and experience. In history, too, there are many examples of individuals whose early lives were morally reprehensible, but who later brought great benefit to others. We might think of Emperor Ashoka, for example, or Saint Paul, or numerous others. (p. 64-5)

I’ve been reading this (off and on) since at least April and there have been some really good passages, which is probably to the surprise of no one. I found this passage particularly important because of how the Dalai Lama uses religion to help build the bridge for his audience from what he’s talking about to their way of understanding the world.

Now, to the part about “world’s colliding.” I’ve mentioned before that I’m working at this summer, but before beginning with this organization, I had no idea who/what Ashoka [the person] was. Ironically, this summer I’m taking an elective in social entrepreneurship and one of our required texts is ‘s . The ironic part is that this book is often used to help explain what it is that Ashoka (the organization) does. [Brief aside: Although, with the recent publication of , many turn to it (Rippling) as it has an updated understanding of the mission of Ashoka (the organization).]

The point about Bornstein’s book is that he sits down with Ashoka’s founder (Bill Drayton) and speaks with him about how he came to found the organization. One of the questions posed/answered is how/why Drayton came to call the organization Ashoka. So of course, the reader then learns a bit about who Ashoka (the Emperor) is and a bit about Bill Drayton’s thinking. So while I didn’t know who Ashoka (the Emperor) was when I started reading the Dalai Lama’s book (or when I started working for Ashoka the organization), I have come across Ashoka (the Emperor) in a number of places. One of the other places comes from in world history: Week #6 was about .