Compassion for the suffering of others is more than just sympathy. The superficial sympathy we express for the woes of others, when we watch the nightly television news, for example, is often no more than a wish to feel good about ourselves, a sop to our own conscience. “I am a person sensibility and feeling,” we say. Without action, this is mere self indulgence.
It is a modern illusion to imagine that positive emotions, sympathy, pity, kindness, and a general but diffused goodwill are the equivalent of virtues. These “soft” emotions can serve as a form of narcissistic self indulgence. Often they are impotent. They make us feel good about ourselves, like when we give a coin to a beggar. They create the illusion of health and well-being. But sensitivity should be used as a diagnostic tool, not as a mirror to our own vanity. Real compassion is potent as it implies the question, “What can I do to help?”
From "So, how many trees have you planted, Daddy?" (The Guardian)
One day last October I found my five-year-old daughter, Rosa, leafing through my passport, which I'd left on the kitchen table in readiness for a work trip. She was studying it with a frown and I assumed she was upset by the boggle-eyed menace of the photo-booth portrait. But she was actually closely scrutinising several pages of blood-red immigration stamps marking multiple entries to the United States of America. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
"How many times have you been on a plane to America?"
"And how many trees have you planted?"
"I'm going to tell Miss White."
Extract from "So, how many trees have you planted, Daddy?" in The Guardian
Rachel Shard, 5
"When I grow up I want there to be some of the world left for us"
"My brother Joel has a puzzle book which shows bears and wolves in the jungle. I try and tell him that bears and wolves and other animals in the jungle might die if we don't look after them. There are lots of things which threaten them. Litter's one. Litter blocks up the jungles and the animals suffer. I know that water is needed, too. We do Water Aid at our school. And sometimes we all share a bath at home.
Cato Tallis-Lock, 12
"I think my parents listen to me about the environment"
"I came up with the idea "Walk Your Dad" for the book Teach Your Granny To Text with my friend Edward. Both our dads work at home sitting at computers. We felt they needed more exercise. At school there is someone to tell you to do PE or swimming, but working at home there is less opportunity to exercise. Encouraging our dads to walk was about health and about the environment. I'm protective of the environment. I check if the lights are on and if the TV is on standby. Small things around the house make a difference, like turning off the tap when you're brushing your teeth. The big stuff is harder, though. We do go on aeroplanes, but not for short journeys. We drove to Spain last summer. I think my parents listen to me about the environment. But they do stuff anyway. If there was a child whose parent wasn't listening to them about the threat of global warming I'd say, show them a website which shows CO2 emissions.
Sunneka Deocampo, 8, Brighton
"I like growing seeds. I am growing an avocado to eat"
"I was born in a jungle. I don't remember it, but my mum has told me. I was surrounded by coconuts and flowers. I like growing seeds and I think if we grew more food and ate it that might be good for the earth. I am growing an avocado to eat. It's about the size of a satsuma now, maybe a bit bigger. You put it near the sun. You water it. It takes ages just to grow one, though. I don't know where my school dinner comes from. We need a lot of food in the school and I could never make that much. Mr O'Shea is my teacher and we talk about the environment in class. I turn off taps that are running. I pick up litter. I know cars are not good. I live near the sea and I know if oil gets in it that isn't good for the birds. My sister Taneesha is seven. We made our own recycling box and we put our paper in it. I hope it helps. Mr O'Shea says it helps. My mum says it will help.