If Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who murdered six people last weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, had felt compassion, would he have committed the murders?
I don’t think so.
How do you get to the point where you feel no compassion? I’m not sure. But, I think it must start very early in life.
As I’ve said in other posts, I feel a huge burden to teach my kids certain life lessons. Compassion for others is one of those.
If you’re like me, I don’t come in contact with any Sikhs at home. But in April, we visited a Sikh temple in India. And here’s what we found.
Worship and Compassion
Sikh temples aren’t just a place of worship, but also a place of compassion and volunteerism. At the temple in New Delhi, volunteers prepare food daily for 5,000 people. Yes, that’s right. They feed 5,000 people a day. For free.
Entering through the large gates, we left our shoes in a small room, covered our heads with orange scarves, and walked into a large dining room.
Volunteers work throughout the day cutting vegetables, rolling roti (similar to pita bread), and washing dishes.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served to anyone who needs or wants a meal. Poor and rich. Young and Old. Everyone eats together.
No one is turned away based on appearance. Anyone is welcome to share a meal. Food programs are funded by the church and others around the world.
Our guide, Mr. Singh, explained that all Sikhs are named Singh, but not all people named Singh are Sikhs. The first Sikh guru came from a Hindu family.
Raising a Compassionate Child
It’s really hard to feel compassion for people we don’t know, even if they look just like us. And it’s especially hard to teach kids that concept. On one hand, we teach our children not to talk to strangers. Then, we turn around and teach them not to judge people by their appearance.
How confusing. Even to me, and I’m an adult.
How do I teach the difference between danger and something that’s simply different? Even as adults, we let fear and caution override feelings of compassion. I’d like to think that’s why I don’t stop to help a stranger whose car has broken down on the side of the road. I’d hate to think it’s because of my lack of compassion.
And if I teach them to be compassionate towards those who are different than us, does that mean I have to teach them to feel compassion for people like Wade Michael Page? Or, do you teach them to feel empathy for only those who deserve it?
Is it possible to teach cautious compassion? Would that be a good thing?
Before hating a group of people, I want my kids to know what the group stands for, getting to know the members individually.
Maybe if I begin by teaching them to feel empathy for those around them, as they grow, they’ll be able to decide for themselves how to balance compassion with judgment.
And, as the Sikhs in India have shown, you can’t really hate someone you help. That’s why I want my kids to volunteer, giving them the opportunity to interact with many different people.
While I still don’t truly understand the tenets of the religion, I am sure about one thing. They believe in helping others and feeding the hungry. Both honorable goals.
Thanks to the Sikhs, I got a lesson in compassion. I just hope I can pass it along.