Compassion and kindness are words within our vocabulary often used interchangeably, however our recent webinar discussion on compassion brought to light the nuance of the two concepts.
Compassion is described in the Cambridge dictionary as ‘a feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.’ Comparably, kindness is defined by ‘the quality or act of being friendly, generous, and considerate.’
Whilst the concept of kindness perhaps envelopes that of compassion, there is considerable overlap in the intentions of compassion and kindness with both notions focused on the awareness and needs of others, setting aside our own agendas to help, support and benefit the lives of those around us.
These ideas echo those central to the Montessori philosophy, a pedagogy that recognises the child’s internal shift from egocentric ‘horme’ to conscious ‘will’ and awareness of others, the specific sensitive period for social aspects and fostering an environment of interconnectedness with children’s communities and nature.
Nurturing compassion and kindness for both ourselves and the children we work with can provide life tools and foundations for children’s development. Not only does the Montessori approach prepare the child with life skills of independence and a deeply rooted passion for learning but it also aims to provide emotional and social tools that can support children through adulthood. Instilling these concepts at a young age, hopes to inspire a generation to intuitively act with compassion and kindness.
‘Before we can help, we must understand; we must follow the path from childhood to adulthood. If we understand, we can help and this help must be the plan of our education: to help [the child] to develop…[their] greatness.’
Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures
Reflecting on the core principal of adult role-modelling within the Montessori approach, compassion and kindness can be portrayed daily by the adults caring for children. A key factor in effectively role-modelling these ideas is authentically living with compassion and kindness.
Reinforced phrases and ground rules of ‘using kind hands and kind words’ are key in communicating expectations to children, however genuinely believing in and recognising the potential of acting with compassion and kindness will demonstrate this to children with much greater meaning.
There is no expectation for perfection, we as adults are also on a continuous learning journey, so self-reflection plays an integral part to fostering compassion and kindness in daily life. Take time to reflect on: What are my motivations? What are my triggers? Why did I react like that in that moment? How could I have changed my reaction? How did my action affect others? What could I do differently next time?
These can help us to contemplate our daily interactions and the behaviours and attitudes we unconsciously role-model to children. It also allows us to return back to the core values of the Montessori philosophy: respect, nurturing, compassion and trust.