With each new year comes the hope that humanity learns from its mistakes of the previous year and that things are bound to get better. I tend to be an optimist and believe that all people have at least a glimmer of light within them, yet the incidents of hate crimes, abuse, animal cruelty, shootings, terrorism, and bullying continue.
The recent news story about Chicago teens who tormented a special needs classmate brought this forward once again. Their mistreatment of a fellow student who thought they were his friends and their live streaming of the incident showed a blatant disregard for another person's welfare and an insensitivity to what this abuse would do to him long-term, to his family, and to those viewing their terrible act online. The biting cold of winter had been reflected in the cold hearts of the perpetrators.
My sense is that this type of behavior is directly related to a lack of compassion, empathy, and connectedness. More and more people seek to connect with technology rather than with each other. The idea of understanding or of basic kindness gets buried under disdain and disgust toward fellow human beings. It is with this in mind that my article about compassion was conceived. My hope is to warm our hearts even in the coldest social climate and to create the best future we can. It must include teaching our youth about caring about the feelings of others and the development of empathy in our adult population.
In the process of becoming more technologically connected, we have lost our sensitivity toward others. Whether it is due to parents focusing on their devices rather than on the children or because technology is used as a babysitter, there is less connecting and more aggression.
Google this topic to see the myriad studies conducted in the United States and abroad. They concur that technology and/or a lack of attachment and bonds between parents and children can create detrimental behavioral patterns.
According to the book, Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth about What Technology is doing to our children by Cris Rowan, one in six children has a diagnosed mental illness, with child aggression and unmanageable behavior increasingly the norm.
Sutton Trust did a study that showed that "infants under three years of age who don't form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant, and hyperactive as adults. These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child." *
What does this do to our society as a whole? It increases the number of young people acting out in aggressive and dangerous ways. Despite having thousands of social media "friends," with too much social media and technology as the primary way of communicating, there is a sense of isolation. While our strides in technology are miraculous and valuable, the bottom line is that without a balanced approach, technology causes a disconnection from parents and others. That, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of a connection to nature, creates agitation and anxiety.
Without attachments, we have a more difficult time managing stress resulting in increased anxiety and depression. Without movement, there is nowhere for this pent-up energy to be released and dispersed. Without exposure to nature, which helps us to lower blood pressure and feel calmer in general, incidences of anger and outbursts are more frequent. Read or watch the news on any given day and see acts of aggression against animals, the helpless, the young, the old, those with special needs whether physically and mentally, and anyone who is different in belief or orientation.
To regain peace, we need to encourage, develop, and act in accordance with three things:
- Compassion: A deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering.
- Kindness: The quality of being warm-hearted, considerate, humane, and sympathetic
- Empathy: Comprehension and sharing of others’ states of being, living, and feeling
So if you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, an aunt or uncle, or a Big Brother or Big Sister, help promote compassion and help the kids around you understand others and create empathy within them. Model these behaviors and show the children how rewarding it is to be helpful to others and to make someone feel good. Start early teaching children about these concepts. Interact with them, help them use their imaginations rather than losing themselves in computer games and show them healthy ways to manage their stress. Help them connect with and acknowledge their creativity and unique gifts by unplugging from technology and exposing them to the beauty of the world. The smallest creature deserves to be treated with kindness, so demonstrate gentle kindness toward animals. Those already doing these things with their children are likely seeing positive behaviors emerge.
As an adult, walk in nature, play with and hug your pets, move your body to reduce tension, touch, connect with others with a strict "no devices at the table" rule while at home or out to dinner, and disconnect from technology a few times a week. Volunteer to serve and bring joy to people and animals in need. Treat those around you with compassion and understanding.
By bringing peace to ourselves and promoting inner peace in others through compassion, the world will be a calmer, happier place to live.