How to build a culture of compassion

Just like me. An exercise in compassion

Recent findings in neuroscience and evolutionary biology show that humans are wired for cooperation and compassion from the first years of life onwards. Translated to the school setting, the research confirms that the vast majority of students, including those involved in bullying, will demonstrate empathy and kindness towards their peers when their school creates conditions that support these behaviors. One of the most powerful practices to build compassion is to move beyond our habitual focus on differences and to lead your students through this "just like me" exercise.

Ask your students to find a partner and to sit facing them.

Say: For the next five minutes we are going to explore a different way of seeing others.

Take five seconds to make eye contact with the person in front of you and now close your eyes.

As you sit here with your eyes closed sense that there is another person sitting in front of you. A fellow human, just like you.  Now notice these things about this person.

  • This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
  • This person experiences sensations, feelings and thoughts, just like me.
  • This person has suffered from physical and emotional pain, just like me.
  • This person has been sad, disappointed or angry, just like me.
  • This person has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.
  • This person is frightened sometimes, just like me.
  • This person has longed for friendship, just like me.
  • This person is figuring out how to navigate this life, just like me.
  • This person wants to be free from pain, just like me.
  • This person wants to be safe, just like me.
  • This person wants to be healthy, just like me.
  • This person wants to be happy, just like me.
  • This person wants to be loved, just like me.

Now, allow some wishes for their well-being to arise

  • May this person be free from pain and suffering.
  • May this person be happy.
  • May this person be loved.
  • May this person discover the strength, resources, and friends to navigate this life with ease.

After a few moments, ask your students to open their eyes

Take a moment to notice the person sitting in front of you and to look around the room

Take five minutes to talk in your dyad how this exercise was for you. If you feel that they need specific prompts you can suggest they ask

  • Do you feel any differently about the person sitting in front of you?
  • Do you want to live your life any differently now?

At the end of five minutes ask them to thank their partners.

Discuss as a large group how this exercise was for them and ask for two or three of them to share their answer to the questions.

Note to facilitator: There is opportunity here, depending upon the age of your students, to discuss when they feel most different from others and what prompts this (usually fear).  And to explore what happens inside of them when they feel really different and whether difference is simply a state of mind.  And how it would feel to go through life with a new belief: that everyone that you meet wants to feel safe and loved, just like me.