Compassion. One little word with a whole lot of meaning. To me, anyway.
Webster’s Ninth defines compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Long before we started our family, my husband heard me say over and over again how strongly I feel about raising compassionate kids. My mantras included: no child of mine will treat others with disrespect; I have no tolerance for intolerance; and finally, I want my children to fight for what they believe in and to stand up for others. I believe compassion is at the root of all this.
But is compassion learned or inherited? Or both?
When you adopt, the ol’ nature vs. nurture “debate” comes up again and again. Not only as something we are constantly thinking about as adoptive parents, but we are often reminded of it by our well-meaning friends and family.
From a young age, my daughter showed clear signs of compassion for other people, for animals, toward her dolls; a general sensitivity to others’ feelings. As she gets older, I see her compassion growing stronger (and I have to say, this thrills me!). She recognizes when I’m sad about something and is right there with a hug and a pat on the back, and a few words of wisdom only a child could provide.
Over this past weekend, I committed involuntary cat-slaughter. (Any one who knows me well knows what an animal lover I am; I don’t even squish bugs.) Ava was with me when it happened, and handled it remarkable well; better than I did, actually. Right after it happened, she said, “Mommy, let’s say a prayer, maybe the cat will come back to life.” Every day since the accident, she asks me, “Mommy, are you still sad that you squished the cat?” When I say yes, she gives me a hug, pats my back, and tells me it’s okay, the cat is with Chani (our cat that died of old age last year) in “Chani Heaven” (as Ava calls the place where cats go).
I can’t say for sure if Ava’s compassion comes from “nature” or “nurture.” Unfortunately we don’t know much about Ava’s birthmother, nor have we ever had a conversation with her. I do know that I will do everything in my power to lead by example and continue to nurture my daughter’s compassion. Not only for the welfare of others, but for her own health and happiness.